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The Mistress's Daughterby A. M. Homes
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.)
"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)
"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
"[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
"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
"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
"[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
"[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
"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....
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.
The acclaimed writer A. M. Homes was given up for adoption before she was born. Her biological mother was a twenty-two-year-old single woman who was having an affair with a much older married man with a family of his own. The Mistress's Daughter is the ruthlessly honest account of what happened when, thirty years later, her birth parents came looking for her. Homes relates how they initially made contact and what happened afterwards, and digs through the family history of both sets of her parents in a twenty-first-century electronic search for self. Daring, heartbreaking, and startlingly funny, Homes's memoir is a brave and profoundly moving consideration of identity and family.
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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