Herald Tribute columnist Lily Waters rose above the distress of being abandoned, days after giving birth, by her professor husband. Abandoning her, the baby and their daughter, the Spawn of Satan took off for the UK with his student and has only been intermittently heard from since. Nine years on, and with the support of her best friend Michael Angelo, she has carved out a completely satisfying life that balances work and home, children and a life. Shortly after her fortieth birthday, as part of a breast cancer awareness column her boss wants her to write, Lily has a mammogram and discovers she has an aggressive cancer. Despite chemo and surgery Lily knows she's going to die. She also knows the Spawn, who has had next to nothing to do with the children, will feel guilt but not really want to take them on, and she can't imagine his Child Bride being keen either. But her only alternative is Michael, and though he's been part of her children's lives since birth, becoming a daddy at forty might cramp his cruising lifestyle. And even if that plan works out, the Spawn may not be so keen on a gay man raising the children he himself abandoned.
Atypical for the genre, Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven is more tear-jerker disease novel than romance. We see only glimpses of Lily's family, and her central relationship is unquestionably Michael, who narrates half of the novel. He has unprocessed issues about his sexuality, increased by both estrangement from his macho Italian father and scarred by the traumatic and involuntary nature of his coming out at college, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The HIV/AIDS atmosphere of the late eighties, equal parts hysteria (for the untouched wider community) and tragedy (for those affected) is well created.
I found myself relating more to his story than hers, perhaps because he get to know him better - very little of pre-cancer Lily is revealed, making it harder to relate to her. I was also angered by the revolting treatment he was dealt by his team and coach, and found his story of unexpected parenthood compelling. That said, I did sob at the end of the novel, though I found the epilogue a little too twee and neat. This is my first Orloff novel, and I suspect it won't be the last. - Alex