The Abortionist’s Daughter
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Two weeks before Christmas, Diana Duprey, an outspoken abortion doctor, is found dead in her indoor lap pool. A national figure, Diana inspired passion and ignited tempers, but never more so than on the day of her death. Her husband Frank, a longtime attorney in the D.A.’s office; her daughter Megan, a freshman in college; the Reverend Stephen O’Connell, founder of the town’s anti-abortion coalition: all of them quarreled with Diana that day and each one has something to lose in revealing the truth.
Meanwhile the detective on the case struggles for the answers – and finds himself more intimately involved in a family drama than he ever could have imagined.
more Critical Acclaim
“What works best in this novel is not the issue of abortion (duly presented and dissected from both sides) nor the revelation of the murderer but the family backstories, which reveal Hyde at her best.”
—Anita Shreve, The Washington Post
“Darkly witty … It’s really Hyde’s zest for misbehavior, the inappropriate emotion, the surprising word choice, that makes The Abortionist’s Daughter so striking.”
—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Hyde’s greatest achievement is in addressing the gray areas of abortion, a topic many view only in black and white terms. It is this judicious handling of such a compelling and timely subject that makes ‘The Abortionist’s Daughter’ the first must-read of the summer.”
—The Denver Post
“In Megan, author Elisabeth Hyde presents a wincingly accurate portrait of late-stage adolescence in upper-middle-class suburbia…. [In Diana Duprey,] Hyde could easily have presented a feminist martyr, but instead she rather deftly gives us a three-dimensional character: Diana is flawed and sometimes mistaken, she’s uncertain about some things and overconfident about others. Most of all, she is believable.”
—The Minneapolis StarTribune
“Hyde’s latest novel deftly probes the many daily pains inflicted in relationships and delicately examines the sacrifices of her characters as they rebuild their lives amid swirls of ethical dilemmas. This is an exceptionally well-written book that pulls the reader nicely along right up until the surprise ending.”
“Hyde’s account of Diana Duprey’s transformation from a young doctor who ‘had a special touch, a kind of sixth sense’ to an experienced, battled-hardened veteran of the abortion wars is fascinating and complex.”
—NY Times Book Review
“The Abortionist’s Daughter is as much the story of several families driven to the edge of disintegration by loss and conflicting values as it is a crime novel …Like any satisfying story that takes place in a small town, [it] reveals dirty secrets about many of the townsfolk. Their inner lives are far from pretty, but the people who live in this Colorado town could very well be your neighbors.”
“True-to-form and with the same audacity she exhibited in her prior work, Hyde addresses all sides of the abortion issue head-on while still managing to create a palpable, non-preachy book for her readers. A gripping thriller that will entice even those not particularly fond of the suspense genre, The Abortionist’s Daughter delivers a rare but successful breed of multi-faceted morality and adrenalin-inflused action that purely satisfies.”
A “stellar mystery.”
“There are some psychological suspense novels so good they keep readers spellbound regardless of plot. The Abortionist’s Daughter is one of them.”
“The mystery at the center of Hyde’s thoughtful, moving novel is less about who killed Diana than how love in all its myriad forms can be the very poison that destroys people.”
—The Baltimore Sun
“This is a mystery that works … The story is both emotional and suspenseful … Hyde’s ability to grapple with loaded issues without putting the story second is impressive.”
—The Austin Chronicle
“Awash in complex relationships and social issues, The Abortionist’s Daughter wavers between being a plot-driven mystery novel on the one hand, and on the other, a poignant study of one idealistic woman's life and beliefs and how they affected the people who surrounded her.”
Why tackle a controversial subject like abortion in a novel?
To get readers thinking about the issue from a variety of perspectives. All too often these days, the word “abortion” leads people to dig in their heels somewhere on the political spectrum. There are plenty of op-ed pieces out there dissecting the issue; I wanted to explore it from a much more personal point of view. How does an abortion provider continue to perform abortions when she herself is pregnant? How does she deal with the news that her 16-week-old baby has Down syndrome? What does a teenager do when her parents are pressuring her to terminate the pregnancy, but her boyfriend and his family want just the opposite? These aren’t situations that normally come to mind when people are labeling themselves “pro-choice” or “pro-life.”
Of course in today’s political climate, where states are chipping away at Roe v. Wade, Congress is trying to defund Planned Parenthood, and clinics are closing right and left, a woman’s right to choose remains paramount. I’m appalled to think our daughters – and sons – might be yanked back into the pre-1973 era of backdoor abortions.
Was there something specific that sparked the idea?
Actually, the novel began with two very distinct, concrete images: that of a woman swimming alone in her lap pool at night while outside a blizzard raged; and that of a woman wearily telling her daughter’s ex-boyfriend to “quit groveling.” Beyond that, I’ve been circling around the issue of abortion in much of my writing, with at least one character facing an unplanned pregnancy. But ultimately, the will-she-or-won’t-she question doesn’t provide a lot of literary meat. If I was going to write about abortion head-on – which I wanted to do – I needed to tell a story that turned a lot of perspectives upside down.
What about the title? It’s pretty controversial. Did you consider any others?
The working title for the novel was Rock Paper Scissors – a perfectly serviceable title, but it could have referred to any number of novels out there. At some point late in the game, I suddenly flashed on Megan’s role as the daughter of a highly controversial public figure, a woman whom many of the townspeople saw as an abortionist, a word with all sorts of negative connotations. It seemed to perfectly reflect her status. I submitted the book under that title, and nobody could imagine anything else.
How did you research the medical and police angles?
For the medical side, I relied on books and the internet. There’s a wonderful memoir by Suzanne Poppema, called Why I Am an Abortion Doctor, which takes you into the mindset of a very dedicated woman. I found it immensely helpful. Another book I relied on was Cynthia Gorney’s Articles of Faith, which chronicles both sides of the abortion issue here in the U.S. And you can learn just about anything you want about the medical procedure on the internet.
As for the police angle, I enrolled in Boulder’s very own Citizen’s Police Academy. I even have a diploma! For ten weeks, we met on Wednesday evenings and learned about different aspects of the department – dispatch, investigations, search and seizure law, etc. The best part was going out in a squad car on a Friday night with a patrol officer. Mostly we busted up college keg parties – although I’ll add that the patrol officer was far more concerned with kids’ safety than arrests.
The town in The Abortionist’s Daughter very much resembles Boulder, where you live. Why not simply name it?
I didn’t want to be locked into the factual details. If you name a town, then everything you write has to be factually accurate. Is the coroner appointed or elected? Is the police department downtown or out by the mall? Is it Magnolia Road, or Sugarloaf? Things like that matter, if you name the town.
An Excerpt from The Abortionist’s Daughter
The problem was, Megan had just taken the second half of the ecstasy when her father called with the news.
Earlier that day, her roommate had bundled up and trudged out into a raging Front Range blizzard to buy two green clover-shaped pills: one for herself, and one for Megan, as a kind of pre-Christmas present. Natalie had meant to wrap them up in a little box. But the day got a little hectic, what with exams and all, so after dinner, when they were back in their dorm room together, Natalie simply dug in her pocket and took out the little pills and without any fanfare set them on the open page of Megan’s biology text. “And don’t wuss,” she warned.
Megan screwed up her face. The green pills reminded her of those pastel dots you got when you were a kid, the kind you peel off a long strip of paper. She didn’t have time for this tonight. She scooped up the pills and put them into a clay pinch pot that sat in the back corner of her desk. Lumpy and chipped, the pot looked as though someone had stuck his elbow into a ball of clay. Which is exactly what Ben, her brother, had done, eleven years ago. A major accomplishment, for Ben.
But Natalie wouldn’t let the matter go, pointing out that they could start with just half. And so instead of studying for her biology exam as planned, Megan Thompson, pre-med freshman at the university, found herself giving in to something larger and decidedly more fun that evening. Not only that, but she gave in with no clue as to what had transpired earlier that evening two miles west, in the two-story stucco house she’d grown up in—the house that had been on the Home Tour three years in a row, the one that backed up to Open Space, with the model solar heating panels and the evaporative cooling system that kept the temperature inside a mere seventy- five when outside it soared above a hundred. She had no suspicions, no worries, no funny feelings that might have caused her to think twice, to resist the temptation and opt out of what she knew from experience would be another evening of all-night bliss. Forgetting about everything else—her exam, the argument with her mother earlier that morning, that last very strange e-mail from Bill—Megan placed half the pill on her tongue, washed it down with water, and waited.
That was at eight o’clock.
At eight-thirty they weren’t feeling much different.
At quarter to nine Natalie wondered if they should take the other half.
And it was right after they split the second pill that the phone rang. Natalie recognized the number on Caller ID. “It’s your mother again,” she announced.
When Megan didn’t reply, Natalie said, “I think you ought to straighten things out. Maybe she changed her mind. Maybe she’ll buy you the plane ticket. I’m answering it.” She picked up the phone, singing “Yell-low?” before even bringing the phone to her ear.
Seated cross-legged on her bed, Megan slumped against the wall. The reason she didn’t want to talk to her mother was simple. That morning they’d argued over whether or not Diana would buy Megan a ticket to Mexico for spring break. Mean things were said—by both of them—and Megan shuddered when she recalled how pleased she’d felt with that last wicked remark about killing babies. Why did it make her feel so good to make her mother feel so bad?
Speaking of feelings, the drug was kicking in and she was beginning to feel pretty good—so that when Natalie told her it wasn’t her mother but rather her father on the phone, she felt a welcome surge of love and affection.
“That’s my dad,” she said fondly, “wanting to play the guy in the middle. He’s always doing that, you know? Whenever Mom and I get into a fight, there he is, Mr. Mediator. It wasn’t even a big fight,” she went on. “He just wants everything perfect, since it isn’t with him and Mom. Freaks him out to think that she and I—”
“Take the fucking phone,” said Natalie.
Megan took the phone and cradled it to her ear. “Hi, Dad.”
“Sweetheart,” he began.
“It wasn’t a major fight,” she told him. “Did she tell you? A bunch of people are going to Mexico. I’ll pay for the ticket, I’ll pay for everything. I didn’t mean to lay it all on Mom.” She heard her father clear his throat but felt a rush of apology coming—not just for things said earlier that day but for all the wrongs she had committed over the course of her nineteen years.
“I was rude,” she said. “I shouldn’t have yelled at her. Jesus, it’s Christmas. What was I thinking? I hate it when I yell.”
“Megan,” her father said.
Megan stopped. There was something black and buggy in his voice that made her heart skip. And it took her less than a second to realize why. It was the voice he’d used ten years ago, when he’d called her at summer camp with the news about Ben.
“Megan,” he began.
Frank Thompson couldn’t tell if it was the reflection of pool water bouncing off the windows, or the shriek of his daughter over the phone, or the flapping sound of the sheet as the paramedics covered his wife that made his legs begin to wobble and shake. All he knew was that the ground beneath him was falling out from under, and he had to get down, fast, or he was going to be sick.
He squatted, set the phone on the slate floor that Diana had chosen when she put in the pool, and covered his face with his hands. He listened to the pool pump as it sucked and squirted from somewhere underground, and breathed in the moist, chlorinated air that filled the solarium. A few feet away a young woman in a police uniform was conferring with the paramedics. Next to him lay Diana’s peach-colored bathrobe, along with a pair of purple flip-flops with the darkened imprints of her heels.
A shiver passed through him, and he turned his gaze to the water in the pool, which continued to dance as though some ghost were out there sculling in the middle. It was a small elevated pool, framed in by blond birch panels—not much bigger than two hot tubs end to end, really, with a motorized current that allowed Diana to swim nonstop without having to turn. Although he hadn’t wanted to put the pool in, he’d later conceded to one of his colleagues that it was a worthy investment, since it gave his high-strung wife a chance to come home and mellow out. After twenty years of marriage, he knew that a mellow Diana was a cohabitable Diana.
Frank lifted his head, and a sparkle of light caught his eye from underneath the ficus tree across the room. Broken glass, needly shards—and Frank cringed as he recalled how earlier that afternoon he’d thrown the glass across the room to get his wife’s attention. It was wrong of him, he knew that. But after coming across the pictures online—pictures that no father should have to imagine, let alone see—well, everyone has a breaking point, and it was the way Diana was so oblivious to the problem at hand, the way she assumed he was upset because she’d skipped out on lunch earlier that day: he felt his shoulders clench, and the glass just flew.
It would seem that a man in Frank Thompson’s position, with over twenty years’ experience as a prosecuting attorney, would know better than to start tampering with things in a room with a dead person. A man in his position would get out of that room and call his own attorney. But Frank didn’t have his wits about him at the moment, certainly not his professional wits, and all he could think was that broken glass would convey the wrong impression about his marriage. (Though lord it felt good to shatter a glass like that; the gratification was unmatched, like saying shit or fuck in front of small children.)
Rising stiffly, he walked over to a little poolside closet to get a broom and dustpan. Nobody seemed to notice him; the patrol officer was on her cell phone and the paramedics were conferring with each other. As if making up for all the times during their marriage that he hadn’t cleaned up after himself, he knelt down and swept up the ficus leaves and shards of glass and emptied them into a wastebasket. He didn’t want people to have the wrong impression.
Outside, a blast of grainy snow pelted the sliding-glass doors. Now the cop and the paramedics were kneeling beside Diana’s body.
“That’s not good,” the cop said, glancing up. She was new on the force, blond and blue-eyed like someone straight off a farm in Minnesota; but she already had that bossy, black and white air that you find in cops, and older siblings. “Did you know about this?”
“Know about what?” asked Frank.
“Come see,” said the cop. “If you get down, you can see better.”
Reluctantly, Frank squatted. He hadn’t looked at Diana since the paramedics had arrived. They held the sheet away from her head, and Frank, who’d harbored the lay belief that maybe it was all a mistake, now forced himself to look.
For all the times he’d seen a dead body—and there were plenty, his having been with the district attorney’s office for twenty-four years—nothing could compare to this. His wife’s dark corkscrew curls fanned away from her face, Medusa-like. Her skin was white and waxy, her lips the color of plums. Her eyes stared up, flat and fishy. He looked away.
“What concerns us is this,” the cop said, and she nodded to the younger of the two paramedics, a man with a long straggly ponytail. Gently taking Diana’s head in both hands, he turned it slightly and splayed the hair above her ear.
“Right there,” said the cop. “You see?”
What he saw made him choke. The bruise was huge and ripe and living, a fat, blue-gray slug in her tangled hair.
“Any idea how this happened?” the cop asked Frank.
Numbly Frank shook his head.
“Well, it’s some bruise,” the cop said. “Hard to imagine what could have made a bruise like that. And look at those knuckles.”
Frank heard himself suggest that she’d perhaps fallen.
“Maybe it’s that simple,” said the cop, “but I’m calling the coroner.”
Frank stared at the cop, and for the first time he recalled that on two separate occasions he’d had her on the witness stand; both times she’d not flinched when the defense attorney had implied she was a forgetful, inattentive liar.
“—crime scene from now on,” she added. “Frank, you need to have a seat.”
“You mean you think this wasn’t an accident?”
“Frank,” she said, “your wife is a national figure. There are a lot of people out there who don’t like what she does.”
“Could she have been swimming too fast?” the older paramedic asked. “Maybe she swam into the edge of the pool.”
“This is two-four-oh-five,” the cop was saying into her radio. “Where’s Mark? I need backup now.”
Frank just stared at the three of them.
“Or maybe she tripped and hit her head and fell into the pool,” suggested the paramedic.
Frank couldn’t answer. It wasn’t sinking in. He looked at his wife’s face. The night before, she’d been complaining about the frown lines between her eyebrows; now her forehead was perfectly smooth and unlined. The night before, she’d informed him that for the past five years she’d been coloring her hair without his knowing; now for the first time he noticed that, yes indeed, it was a shade darker.
He wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, how young she looked, but the words kept catching on little fishhooks in his throat. What had he said earlier that afternoon? Something about photo ops and Ben? The great Dr. Duprey, he’d said. Now he cringed, recalling his words, and he bent down and rested his cheek against hers, wanting to take back everything he’d said that afternoon.
He might as well have tried to take back his wedding vows.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m so, so sorry.”