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The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoirby A. M. Homes
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.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)
"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) said to be forthcoming, held out tantalizing promise. Homes' birth mother, Ellen, had sought her out, seemingly driven less by the desire to meet the child she had given up than by personal demons. 'You should adopt me and take good care of me,' Ellen declared. When her baffled daughter didn't respond enthusiastically enough, Ellen phoned on Valentine's Day and told her, 'You can just go to the roof of your building and jump off.' As a teenager in Washington, Ellen had worked for a wealthy, older married man who took her as his mistress, strung her along with promises to leave his wife, then dumped her when she became pregnant. It gradually crosses Homes' mind that Ellen may be more interested in reconnecting with her ex-lover than with her. As for Homes' biological father, Norman, he arranges to rendezvous with Homes in a hotel bar and gives the creepy impression that he might shift his lecherous feelings to his daughter. Like Ellen, he has no interest in Homes' needs or emotions. When not treating her as a tart, he infantilizes her, sending a gold locket for her 32nd birthday, a gift that's 'more like pre-jewelry, like a training bra.' Promising to accept her into his family and introduce her to her half-siblings, he asks only that she submit to a DNA test. But when the test proves his paternity, he distances himself. It dawns on Homes that he had been hoping for an excuse to exclude her from his family and estate. While Norman keeps Homes in a separate compartment of his life, much as he did with his mistress, Ellen intrudes at every opportunity, even stalking Homes at literary events. When Ellen suffers serious medical problems, she expects Homes to donate a kidney. Not surprisingly, Homes reacts with a mixture of curiosity and revulsion, and a pulse of rage starts to beat against the sassy attitude the author tries to strike. When irony proves inadequate, the harried daughter pulls away. Yet after Ellen dies, Homes feels haunted by 'the profound loss of a piece of myself that I never knew, a piece that I pushed away because it was so frightening.' Roughly at this point, the excerpt in the New Yorker ended. Now, more than two years later, with the complete book in hand, one suspects that Homes had difficulty discovering material that lived up to the early chapter. Seven years after Ellen's death, Homes unpacks the poor woman's personal effects, and when this doesn't lead her to deeper understanding, she falls back on fiction and imagines Ellen's love affair with her father. A friend rightly objects, 'You're making it up.' To which the author lamely responds, 'The only other option is for someone to tell me how it was, what really happened.' Actually, there were alternatives. If she was contractually obligated to produce a book, she might have made a more determined effort to track down sources who could tell her 'what really happened.' Instead, like a diligent grad student or an amateur genealogist, she turns from people to paper, from dramatic scenes to a computer screen, from factual research to endless Googling. And in the process her memoir disperses into a pattern of unconnected dots, like a newspaper photograph held too close to the eye. Near the end, it appears that she'll sue Norman and through legal discovery obtain not just a copy of her DNA test, but vital family information that she — and the reader — yearns for. Meticulously, she sets down 15 pages of questions for a possible deposition, but then never supplies a single answer, never explains what became of the dispute. Closing with another unsatisfying digression, this one about her adoptive grandmother and her own daughter, she makes a reader wonder whether she might have been wiser to leave things as they stood with the appearance of that excellent piece in the New Yorker. Michael Mewshaw's most recent book is 'If You Could See Me Now: A Chronicle of Identity and Adoption.'" Reviewed by Rajiv ChandrasekaranRachel Hartigan SheaMarina WarnerCarrie SheffieldMichael Mewshaw, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"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)
"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
"[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
"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
"[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
"[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
"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
"[T]hough the wary tone serves the presentation of the book's first half, it undermines the second....
"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
"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
"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
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.
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.
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.
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