The Daddy Clock by Judy Markey
(Bantam, $21.95, PG) ISBN 0-553-10783-6
Here's one for the reserve list at your local library an adorably cute contemporary with a few deep thoughts sprinkled in amongst the chuckles. It reads like the next Neil Simon script, with witty dialogue prominent throughout the novel.

Charlie Feldman, successful hockey sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, has enjoyed his bachelor status for many years. With little regret, he's watched his friends marry and have kids. But suddenly, at age forty-four, he has an epiphany when his father is hospitalized. Charlie's biological alarm clock finally starts ringing. He wants roots, he wants connections he wants a baby. Only, as Charlie realizes, it's not so easy. A woman can find a sperm donor and become a single mother. A guy doesn't have that option. It looks like he'll have to do it the old-fashioned way meet the right woman, marry her and procreate but quickly, before he's too old to enjoy it.

As Charlie is mulling over a plan of attack, he meets fellow Sun-Times employee Lacy Gazzar, assistant to the advice columnists. Although Lacy is a stranger, he finds himself spilling his guts to her about his urgent desire to be a dad. Lacy finds it hard to relate to Charlie's problem. A single mom since the age of 16, she is finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel as her daughter Jess is just about to leave for college. After years of putting her daughter's needs first, it's Lacy's turn. She's finally going to go to college and get the social work degree she always wanted. Despite their divergent goals, Lacy gets involved in Charlie's search because he's such a nice guy and cute, too. She helps him write a singles ad and gives him advice on dating. The two become such good friends that Charlie looks forward to their nightly phone conversations as a respite from the tedious dating scene.

Do I need to draw you a picture or can you see where this is heading? Of course, one night Charlie and Lacy put aside platonic pal-hood for some mind-blowing sex. And of course despite their responsible use of birth control, Lacy finds herself pregnant and mad as hell. She doesn't want anything to do with the baby or with Charlie. She's never had a life of her own and damn it, she's finally entitled to one! But could her pregnancy be the answer to Charlie's hopes and dreams?

The build-up to Lacy's pregnancy is the strongest part of this novel, as Charlie and Lacy trade chapters in snappy first-person confessionals. You can see the inevitable plot developments a mile away, but that doesn't make getting there any less fun. A few interesting secondary characters, including Lacy's best friend, a single mom of teenage quadruplets (I'd just shoot myself, frankly) and her daughter Jess add to the enjoyment.

The second half of the book is weaker, as the author throws in an unnecessary and distracting plot twist. Also, I didn't feel that Lacy's predicament was fully explored after she gives birth. The resolution is satisfying if you don't mind a little bit of ambiguity and a tenuous happily-ever-after.

I dog-eared several pages of the novel where Charlie is counseled by his other male friends about the joys and anguish of parenthood. These men are amazingly articulate. I'd say they were unrealistic, but my own dear husband has been known to be very insightful so I'd say that a guy who can look within himself while also watching the Super Bowl and drinking beer is not unheard of. My favorite moment is when Charlie's old college friend, now a professor, has this to say about parenthood:

"The minute you have a child, when it comes to that child, you not only are no longer at ease in your own skin, you no longer have any skin on. You are a raw exposed mass of potential pain. You are heartbreak waiting to happen. I teach the philosophers, and poetry, and Greek drama...And I will match the torment of Odysseus cast out to sea for forty years to having Molly come home one afternoon in the fifth grade saying no one would eat with her or talk to her and she didn't know why."

It's moments like that one that make The Daddy Clock a bit more than adorably cute and well worth the read. I'd like to suggest Gena Davis as Lacy and Jeff Goldblum as Charlie (if they're still speaking) in the movie version.

--Susan Scribner

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