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The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir

by

The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir Cover

 

Staff Pick

The Mistress's Daughter shows that truth is often stranger than fiction. In the hands of a lesser writer, the people in the book — including the author herself — would have been two-dimensional, bland, and unbelievable. What Homes has created is a riveting story of missed chances, betrayal, lies, and finally hope.
Recommended by Beth, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

An acclaimed novelist's riveting memoir about what it means to be adopted and how all of us construct our sense of self and family.

Before A.M. Homes was born, she was put up for adoption. Her birth mother was a twenty-two-year-old single woman who was having an affair with a much older married man with children of his own. The Mistress's Daughter is the story of what happened when, thirty years later, her birth parents came looking for her.

Homes, renowned for the psychological accuracy and emotional intensity of her storytelling, tells how her birth parents initially made contact with her and what happened afterward (her mother stalked her and appeared unannounced at a reading) and what she was able to reconstruct about the story of their lives and their families. Her birth mother, a complex and lonely woman, never married or had another child, and died of kidney failure in 1998; her birth father, who initially made overtures about inviting her into his family, never did.

Then the story jumps forward several years to when Homes opens the boxes of her mother's memorabilia. She had hoped to find her mother in those boxes, to know her secrets, but no relief came. She became increasingly obsessed with finding out as much as she could about all four parents and their families, hiring researchers and spending hours poring through newspaper morgues, municipal archives and genealogical Web sites. This brave, daring, and funny book is a story about what it means to be adopted, but it is also about identity and how all of us define our sense of self and family.

Review:

"Novelist Homes's searing 2004 New Yorker essay about meeting her biological parents 31 years after they gave her up for adoption forms the first half of this much-anticipated memoir, but the rest of the book doesn't match its visceral power. The first part, distilled by more than a decade's reflection and written with haunting precision, recounts Homes's unfulfilling reunions with both parents in 1993 after her birth mother, Ellen Ballman, contacted her. Homes (This Book Will Change Your Life,) learns that Ballman became pregnant at age 22, after being seduced by Norman Hecht, the married owner of the shop where Ballman worked. But Ballman's emotional neediness and the more upwardly mobile Hecht's unwillingness to fully acknowledge Homes as a family member shakes Homes's deepest sense of self. The rest of the memoir is a more undigested account of how Ballman's death pushed Homes to research her genealogy. Hecht's refusal to help Homes apply to the Daughters of the American Revolution based on their shared lineage elicits her 'nuclear-hot' rage, which devolves into a list of accusing questions she would ask him about his life choices in a mock L.A. Law episode. The final chapter is a loving but tacked-on tribute to Homes's adoptive grandmother that may leave readers wishing the author had given herself more time to fully integrate her adoptive and biological selves." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"In 2004 the New Yorker published an excerpt from A.M. Homes' memoir, 'The Mistress's Daughter.' Stylish, provocative and deeply personal, the piece dealt with the author's adoption and reunion with her biological parents. Such stories often have the cloying inevitability of Hallmark cards, but Homes deployed the same gimlet eye and ironic sensibility that distinguish her fiction. The book, which was... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"A can't-put-it-down memoir as remarkable for its crystalline prose, flinty wit, and agile candor as for its arresting revelations." Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)

Review:

"Homes draws you in from the first sentence and holds your interest throughout....By the end, you'll feel glad that nurture rather than nature has been dominant in her upbringing. Highly recommended." Library Journal

Review:

"[An] unsatisfying and depressing story [that] proves to be of far more interest to the principals involved than to the reader. Ultimately off-putting and unappealing, due to a whiny, self-pitying attitude conveyed in overwrought prose." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"What propels the book forward is a phase of intense, even obsessive genealogical research....Her perception of her situation shifts, her brilliant imagination takes fire, and she begins to engage with the broader realm of history." Chicago Tribune

Review:

"[A] taut, mesmerizing book that relies on both Homes' brutal honesty and her tendency toward high drama....The Mistress's Daughter...succeeds because of the writer's intimacy with her material, but also suffers from it." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Review:

"[I]f The Mistress's Daughter is not entirely satisfying, if it loses some of its furious precision...as a document of a flawed, incoherent self, it remains fierce and eloquent. And even some of its messier sections are gripping." Katie Roiphe, The New York Times Book Review

Review:

"Homes makes too much fuss about the adoption thing. Certainly being adopted can lead to anxiety and feelings of uncertain identity....The problem is that Homes seems to think that this has never happened to anyone else." Minneapolis Star Tribune

Review:

"[T]hough the wary tone serves the presentation of the book's first half, it undermines the second....[H]ere the reader's imagination doesn't have enough context to work with. Except for the story of Homes and her four parents, the world is absent." Sven Birkerts, The Los Angeles Times

Review:

"The Mistress's Daughter has the beguiling pull of mystery, memory, and surprise. I fell in love with it from the first page and read compulsively to the end. It lays bare those questions about our essential selves: How did we become who we are? What elements of inheritance, neglect, accident, and choice gave us our confused identity, our quirky personality, our urges to be wholly loved? As A.M. Homes shows, there are no definitive answers, but in our search for them, we find more important truths." Amy Tan

Review:

"Both a heartbreak and a thrill to read, The Mistress's Daughter is a radiantly smart memoir of pain and self discovery, outlined in savage, very strange detail. A.M. Homes is a writer of extraordinary depth and courage and grace. Her story will knock you down and pick you back up again." Sean Wilsey

Review:

"To my generation of writers, Homes is a kind of hero, and The Mistress's Daughter is the latest example of her fearlessness and brilliance. It is a compelling, devastating, and furiously good book written with an honesty that few of us would risk." Zadie Smith

Synopsis:

Before A. M. Homes was born, she was put up for adoption. The Mistress's Daughter is the story of what happened when, 30 years later, her birth parents came looking for her.

Synopsis:

A darkly comic novel of twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation

Harold Silver has spent a lifetime watching his younger brother, George, a taller, smarter, and more successful high-flying TV executive, acquire a covetable wife, two kids, and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York City. But Harry, a historian and Nixon scholar, also knows George has a murderous temper, and when George loses control the result is an act of violence so shocking that both brothers are hurled into entirely new lives in which they both must seek absolution.

Harry finds himself suddenly playing parent to his brother’s two adolescent children, tumbling down the rabbit hole of Internet sex, dealing with aging parents who move through time like travelers on a fantastic voyage. As Harry builds a twenty-first-century family created by choice rather than biology, we become all the more aware of the ways in which our history, both personal and political, can become our destiny and either compel us to repeat our errors or be the catalyst for change.

May We Be Forgiven is an unnerving, funny tale of unexpected intimacies and of how one deeply fractured family might begin to put itself back together. 

Synopsis:

The breakthrough story collection that established A. M. Homes as one of the most daring writers of her generation
 
Originally published in 1990 to wide critical acclaim, this extraordinary first collection of stories by A. M. Homes confronts the real and the surreal on even terms to create a disturbing and sometimes hilarious vision of the American dream. Included here are "Adults Alone," in which a couple drops their kids off at Grandma's and gives themselves over to ten days of Nintendo, porn videos, and crack; "A Real Doll," in which a girl's blond Barbie doll seduces her teenaged brother; and "Looking for Johnny," in which a kidnapped boy, having failed to meet his abductor's expectations, is returned home. These stories, by turns satirical, perverse, unsettling, and utterly believable, expose the dangers of ordinary life even as their characters stay hidden behind the disguises they have so carefully created.

About the Author

A. M. Homes is the author of several books of fiction. She has been awarded a Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

dharmabooks, June 17, 2007 (view all comments by dharmabooks)
Homes' latest book goes beyond the category of memoir. The account of her circuitous search is at times uncomfortably intimate. But under Homes' care, the memoir is given a novelist's treatment; the result is a narrative, driven compellingly by the author's personal mission to first find, then lose, her biological parents.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(8 of 16 readers found this comment helpful)
Meridith, April 18, 2007 (view all comments by Meridith)
A.M. Homes hits on so many of the ideas and feelings of what it can be like to be adopted and how our identities are constructed. She explores questions of identity and our tenuously consturcted self histories and comes up with answers that she can live with. A wonderful read that had me page turning all night.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(16 of 26 readers found this comment helpful)
DC Reader, April 7, 2007 (view all comments by DC Reader)
Homes has expanded her 2004 "New Yorker" piece to book length with very mixed results.

Homes has some interesting ideas on genealogy & adoption, but they're mixed-up with too much self-pity. You'd think she was the only product of a bad adoption.

There are a number of more interesting and better researched books out there on adoption and the hunt for one's roots.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(33 of 54 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 3 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780670038381
Author:
Homes, A. M.
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Adoption
Subject:
Adopted children
Subject:
Birthmothers
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Adoption & Fostering
Subject:
Stories (single author)
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20080325
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
b/w photos throughout
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Health and Self-Help » Child Care and Parenting » Adoption and Foster Care

The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir Used Hardcover
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$4.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Viking Books - English 9780670038381 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

The Mistress's Daughter shows that truth is often stranger than fiction. In the hands of a lesser writer, the people in the book — including the author herself — would have been two-dimensional, bland, and unbelievable. What Homes has created is a riveting story of missed chances, betrayal, lies, and finally hope.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Novelist Homes's searing 2004 New Yorker essay about meeting her biological parents 31 years after they gave her up for adoption forms the first half of this much-anticipated memoir, but the rest of the book doesn't match its visceral power. The first part, distilled by more than a decade's reflection and written with haunting precision, recounts Homes's unfulfilling reunions with both parents in 1993 after her birth mother, Ellen Ballman, contacted her. Homes (This Book Will Change Your Life,) learns that Ballman became pregnant at age 22, after being seduced by Norman Hecht, the married owner of the shop where Ballman worked. But Ballman's emotional neediness and the more upwardly mobile Hecht's unwillingness to fully acknowledge Homes as a family member shakes Homes's deepest sense of self. The rest of the memoir is a more undigested account of how Ballman's death pushed Homes to research her genealogy. Hecht's refusal to help Homes apply to the Daughters of the American Revolution based on their shared lineage elicits her 'nuclear-hot' rage, which devolves into a list of accusing questions she would ask him about his life choices in a mock L.A. Law episode. The final chapter is a loving but tacked-on tribute to Homes's adoptive grandmother that may leave readers wishing the author had given herself more time to fully integrate her adoptive and biological selves." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "A can't-put-it-down memoir as remarkable for its crystalline prose, flinty wit, and agile candor as for its arresting revelations."
"Review" by , "Homes draws you in from the first sentence and holds your interest throughout....By the end, you'll feel glad that nurture rather than nature has been dominant in her upbringing. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "[An] unsatisfying and depressing story [that] proves to be of far more interest to the principals involved than to the reader. Ultimately off-putting and unappealing, due to a whiny, self-pitying attitude conveyed in overwrought prose."
"Review" by , "What propels the book forward is a phase of intense, even obsessive genealogical research....Her perception of her situation shifts, her brilliant imagination takes fire, and she begins to engage with the broader realm of history."
"Review" by , "[A] taut, mesmerizing book that relies on both Homes' brutal honesty and her tendency toward high drama....The Mistress's Daughter...succeeds because of the writer's intimacy with her material, but also suffers from it."
"Review" by , "[I]f The Mistress's Daughter is not entirely satisfying, if it loses some of its furious precision...as a document of a flawed, incoherent self, it remains fierce and eloquent. And even some of its messier sections are gripping."
"Review" by , "Homes makes too much fuss about the adoption thing. Certainly being adopted can lead to anxiety and feelings of uncertain identity....The problem is that Homes seems to think that this has never happened to anyone else."
"Review" by , "[T]hough the wary tone serves the presentation of the book's first half, it undermines the second....[H]ere the reader's imagination doesn't have enough context to work with. Except for the story of Homes and her four parents, the world is absent."
"Review" by , "The Mistress's Daughter has the beguiling pull of mystery, memory, and surprise. I fell in love with it from the first page and read compulsively to the end. It lays bare those questions about our essential selves: How did we become who we are? What elements of inheritance, neglect, accident, and choice gave us our confused identity, our quirky personality, our urges to be wholly loved? As A.M. Homes shows, there are no definitive answers, but in our search for them, we find more important truths."
"Review" by , "Both a heartbreak and a thrill to read, The Mistress's Daughter is a radiantly smart memoir of pain and self discovery, outlined in savage, very strange detail. A.M. Homes is a writer of extraordinary depth and courage and grace. Her story will knock you down and pick you back up again."
"Review" by , "To my generation of writers, Homes is a kind of hero, and The Mistress's Daughter is the latest example of her fearlessness and brilliance. It is a compelling, devastating, and furiously good book written with an honesty that few of us would risk."
"Synopsis" by , Before A. M. Homes was born, she was put up for adoption. The Mistress's Daughter is the story of what happened when, 30 years later, her birth parents came looking for her.
"Synopsis" by ,
A darkly comic novel of twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation

Harold Silver has spent a lifetime watching his younger brother, George, a taller, smarter, and more successful high-flying TV executive, acquire a covetable wife, two kids, and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York City. But Harry, a historian and Nixon scholar, also knows George has a murderous temper, and when George loses control the result is an act of violence so shocking that both brothers are hurled into entirely new lives in which they both must seek absolution.

Harry finds himself suddenly playing parent to his brother’s two adolescent children, tumbling down the rabbit hole of Internet sex, dealing with aging parents who move through time like travelers on a fantastic voyage. As Harry builds a twenty-first-century family created by choice rather than biology, we become all the more aware of the ways in which our history, both personal and political, can become our destiny and either compel us to repeat our errors or be the catalyst for change.

May We Be Forgiven is an unnerving, funny tale of unexpected intimacies and of how one deeply fractured family might begin to put itself back together. 

"Synopsis" by ,
The breakthrough story collection that established A. M. Homes as one of the most daring writers of her generation
 
Originally published in 1990 to wide critical acclaim, this extraordinary first collection of stories by A. M. Homes confronts the real and the surreal on even terms to create a disturbing and sometimes hilarious vision of the American dream. Included here are "Adults Alone," in which a couple drops their kids off at Grandma's and gives themselves over to ten days of Nintendo, porn videos, and crack; "A Real Doll," in which a girl's blond Barbie doll seduces her teenaged brother; and "Looking for Johnny," in which a kidnapped boy, having failed to meet his abductor's expectations, is returned home. These stories, by turns satirical, perverse, unsettling, and utterly believable, expose the dangers of ordinary life even as their characters stay hidden behind the disguises they have so carefully created.

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