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Last Best Chance

Last Best Chance

Author: Brooke Dunnell

Publisher: Fremantle Press

Published: April 2024

Last Best Chance is Brooke Dunnell’s second novel after her 2021 Fogarty Award-winning debut novel, The Glass House. The former was a whip-smart study of female friendship and suburban ennui. Her second novel continues with some of the same preoccupations— specifically, an individual’s search for meaning amidst a distanced or detached society, and female identity outside of romantic and reproductive expectations. Still, it’s also clear that Last Best Chance is more eager to explore the world outside of Perth’s wide roads, yellowed grass and weekly rubbish collections.  

In this case, that world at large explores fertility services in an unnamed European country, inspired by the Czech Republic (now known as Czechia) and an Australian woman, Rachel, and her efforts to get pregnant on the other side of the world. While Rachel seeks assisted conception, she encounters hospital bartender Jess and an upcoming green-energy expo soon to envelop the town. Along the way, we track the motivations and dreams of both Jess and Rachel and the ethics of embryo creation, innovation, and first-world tourism.

Dunnell has an excellent eye for domesticity and familial relationships. Here, the generational gap has never been quite as profound when Rachel notes how hard it has been for her, a kind, caring mother-in-the-making, to get pregnant when her mother fairly phoned in her parenting responsibilities years prior. Similarly, the loving connection between Jess and her partner Viktor, who has no desire to have children, only further contrasts the isolation of Rachel’s journey across the world to fight fertility odds and honour the chance of conceiving.

Last Best Chance is a forensic examination of fertility in every sense. While it’s clear Rachel’s privilege allows for both the trip and the relative comfort in which she finds herself, it’s also clear that even the best fertility clinic is a cold, clinical space. Similarly, the employees of the clinic, while kind, are also paid employees, and a late revelation (which I won’t spoil) only adds sting to the idea that of all the challenges one might face in life, IVF is one of the most challenging, offering first hope and then often disappointment, sometimes over and over.

It’s important to note, however, that Dunnell would never impart such simple thoughts to the reader. As with The Glass House, her second novel is more intelligent than black and white or any otherwise glaring truths. Instead, we’re given a book that asks necessary questions about profit, proliferation and our responsibilities as global citizens. It deep-dives into conception to illustrate just how much of our world revolves around ideas of procreation, profit, and success. It does this because many, if not most, are on the wrong side of such equations, and thus, it’s vital to see what remains in the face of loss, longing, and these impossibly difficult decisions and realisations.

 

Reviewed by Laurie Steed

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