Title: The Mistress's Daughter
Author: A.M. Homes
Publisher: Viking Adult
Purchase: Barnes & Noble | Amazon
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.
The first and main reason why I read The Mistress's Daughter is because it's written by A.M. Homes, one of my favorite contemporary novelists. The second reason is because he wrote about herself, and the third is she has an interesting story.
Homes is an adopted child. She's known about this all along, and she had a rather happy childhood with a good family. 30 years after her birth, right after her first novel is published, her birth mother wants to get in touch with her. She is curious to find out about where she comes from, which is very understandable, so she meets her needy birth mother and even her father, who wants DNA samples to make sure she is indeed his daughter and meets up with her in creepy hotel cafes, not telling about Homes to his family.
This book is no exception to Homes's amazing talent of observation and analysis. But since she's in the center of the story, we only see her side of things. While she's trying to figure out where she comes from, she sinks deep into research. She even works with one of those companies who'll give you your family tree. She explains all this and more in detail, including how she felt about it all. She even included a 16-page list of questions she wants to ask her father.
I liked the book because it sheds light on the life of an author I love. I was bored through some parts, but then I thought, "If I had gone through the same thing, I too would think every little detail would be deadly important."
I can't say "go buy this book now" unless you're a fan of the author already, and I must remind you that Homes's fiction is actually very, very good. What I've read of hers so far I've loved. So if you've never read Homes before, I suggest you check her out, and you can start with "This Book Will Save Your Life", "The Safety of Objects", "Music for Torching", "Jack" or her latest, "May We Be Forgiven."