- Setting out to write chick lit for men, Tony Parsons began by inverting the rules of the original genre: Man and Boy, One For My Baby and Man and Wife were bestsellers because they lifted the lid on what made men tick, and women found it both titillating and palatable. The Parsons male is as needy and neurotic as any Bridget, yet when he makes mistakes, he struggles to make amends. All the infidelities come out in the wash of good feeling.
- In his fourth novel, Parsons has for the first time put the women centre stage. The Family Way revolves around three sisters' very different journeys towards motherhood. Cat, the oldest, is determined not to inflict her mother's cruelties on any children of her own and leads a fiercely independent life (we know this because she drives a Mercedes SLK). Jessica, the middle sister, is vulnerable, maternal but unable to conceive; and Megan, the youngest, is bright, lovable, single and terribly surprised to find herself up the duff after a one-night stand with a scuba diving instructor. The various storylines wriggle around one another like a flood of sperm; at times it's difficult knowing which one to keep your eye on. There's not so much a plot as an inexorable drive towards conception, at any cost.
- Everyone is either pregnant2, trying to get pregnant3 or coping with their failure to get pregnant4. And that's just the men. Parsons's women, meanwhile, suffer at the hands of fate: the student doctor who dumps her long-term boyfriend is promptly knocked up by a visiting Australian, while the woman whose husband has a vasectomy is inseminated by her tennis instructor and the dream mum is cursed with endometriosis. The irony is laid on with a turkey baster.
- There are more ups and downs than the average British sex act, but, eventually, The Family Way develops into an Aga saga of the purest kind: every oven gets a bun in it, and individuals are transformed, ineluctably, into families.
- Not content with giving women the inside story on what men think, Parsons has now produced the definitive handbook for women to find out how men imagine women want them to think about women.
- Parsons is still at his best when he's writing about men's alternately hands-on, hands-off role in the tricky business of childmaking. To his credit, he has never taken a simple line on the gender wars.
Instead, his stories show all too well how we muddle along in search of love and fulfilment, and how when we fluff it, which we tend to, sometimes that's just because it's easier.
In-Page Footnotes ("Parsons (Tony) - The Family Way")
Footnote 1: By Jonathan Heawood, The Observer, Sunday 4 July 2004
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