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One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry,Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 19, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

These plainspoken, cage-rattling essays, collected by Walker (What Makes a Man), address how dramatically the traditional nuclear American family has changed. Jenny Block's And Then We Were Poly sets the decidedly unconventional tone by insisting that her and her husband's embrace of other sexual partners allows them a more joyful, fulfilling commitment to each other. A gay couple adopts the child of a self-destructive street girl in Dan Savage's DJ's Homeless Mommy, then tries to keep the mother in touch with her son. In Sharing Madison, Dawn Friedman, another parent of an adoptee, writes of her agonizing process of overcoming the guilt she feels in having taken baby Madison away from her teenage mother. Antonio Caya, in Daddy Donoring, recounts his rational decision to sire his friend's child, firmly remaining a donor, not a daddy, so as not to muddle the issue. Children of mixed race force a much-needed altering of people's perceptions, as ZZ Packer explores in The Look, while Susan McKinney de Ortega's choice to marry a much younger Mexican man and make a home in Mexico challenges the American notion of middle-class values. These fresh, diverse views represent an authentic, valuable new reality. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


A moving, wildly diverse collection showing how radically different familial configurations can work.

Prompted by her experiences growing up in a family "fragmented and haunted by unfulfilled longings," Walker (Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence, 2007, etc.) looks beyond her well-publicized estrangement from her mother, novelist Alice Walker, to the lives of other writers "searching for authenticity through experimentation" in their domestic situations. The essays she assembles smash class, race and gender stereotypes to collectively demonstrate the fluidity of the contemporary family unit. Resisting the traditional boundaries of coupledom, Jenny Block, on the one hand, celebrates the openness of what she calls a "polyamorous marriage" with her husband and her girlfriend. On the other hand, Judith Levine and her boyfriend, together for 17 years, never married for a number of practical and philosophic reasons. Writes Levine: "A marriage may or may not be a union of love. It is always a union of property...I'd like the state to get out of the sexual-licensing business altogether, actually, for couples gay, straight, bi, or none of the above." Essays by Dan Savage and Dawn Friedman lay bare the highs and lows of open adoption. Savage details the difficulty he and his partner have in deciding what to say to their adoptive son when his homeless, substance- abusing biological mother drops out of touch for more than a year: "Which two- by-four to hit him with? That his mother was in all likelihood dead? Or that she was out there somewhere but didn't care enough to come by or call?" Friedman, while admitting to occasional twinges of jealousy and guilt evoked by having her daughter's birth mother integrated into their lives, trumpets openness for her daughter's sake: "She will never have to wonder why her first mother chose adoption; she can ask her." Rebecca Barry closes the anthology with a frank, humorous exploration of how she and her sister ended up in couples therapy.

Eye-opening and sometimes shocking, as it brilliantly explodes traditional notions about the nuclear family.
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (February 19, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 1594488622
  • ASIN: B002CMLR1U
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,149,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alice Herbert on February 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There is nothing more that the human animal longs for than acceptance. This can be hard to come by if you find yourself unable to march to the beat of the common drummer. I have long known that heterosexual, monogamous marriage was not for me. I have long admired families who have chosen their own roads over the ones they are shown. I have long wanted to hear of the stories of those who have found happiness and love not in following but instead in seeking. Finally those stories are here.

That is what this book is all about. One Big Happy Family is about the pursuit of love and family and wholeness with a blind eye to social convention. These writers made me feel at home. They helped me to remember that there is no "right" way to live and to love. They reminded me that living honestly is always more important than living in chains. And they taught me that although others may not accept me, my acceptance of myself is far more gratifying.

These are people who are present in their own lives, active in their own pursuits of love, and accountable for the paths they have chosen or crafted or discovered. We should all be so lucky.

Read this book. Find your way.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on April 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a really quick read and I've already recommended it to several friends - and would recommend it for anyone who has ever felt like their family or their idea of family is out of step with the "norm." The overwhelming sense that I brought away from this reading was that: every family is different, every approach is different, and every family is beautiful. Whether or not that is what the editor and authors intended, I do not know. But it was nice to feel like the polyamorous LGBT life that I am currently leading does not preclude me from starting my own hodge podge family a few years down the road.

Probably the most negative thing that I can say about this collection - and the only reason why it does not get five stars is that a solid group of the stories had this air of... smugness about them. As if, the way they had worked it out was the most ideal form of a family. Which is quite possible true (for them), but not something that needed to come across in their writing. One that was particularly guilty of this was Penn-Nabrit's "How Homeschooling Made Our Family More of What We Wanted it to Be" (which was my least favorite of the works in this anthology).
Jenny Block's "And Then We Were Poly" was, in typical Block fashion, funny and engaging though not without it's own sense of "this is the best way to do things."

The most interesting and heart warming ones, I thought, were "Woman Up" by asha bandele, "The Enemy Within" by Dan Savage, "This Old House" by Rebecca Berry, and "My First Husband" by Liz Monroy. (Though Monroy's piece left a few holes that I wish she had covered - for example, why was it so important for her to divorce him because of an apartment?)

All and all, an interesting, heartwarming read. It will make anyone outside of the American "nuclear family" "ideal" a little less alone in the world.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By MC on January 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I don't read many anthologies, but I've never seen an editor (Rebecca Walker) change so much of the original author's essay. I've only read about a quarter of the book so far (4 and half essays), but after finishing two first two essays I noticed how the pacing of the essays were really similar. So similar I had to check and make sure they were by different authors.

So I cross-referenced the story "The Enemy Within" by Dan Savage (pg.29) with the original essay and there are huge differences. Huge. Walker has edited this essay so much she's a large part of the author's voice from their piece.

This book is a good read because I enjoy the style in which they were written/edited. But at the same time, I don't want to read Walker's version of how these stories ought to sound at the expense of the author's voice. I understand if this is an anthology about diverse happy families and that the original forms of these essays may go into tangents that go beyond that theme, but I would contend that these changes go too far, even in that purpose of theme conformity.

It is a shame that an editor has to change so much of an author's original work. Why even feature their essay if you're gonna change so much of it?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nature Grrl on December 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I can understand why the one reviewer mentioned being disappointed by the book after the "tease" of the intro poly story. If that's what you're looking for, this isn't the book for you. (You might try reading the rest of the story in Jenny Block's book "Open" but it isn't that graphic really either.)

This book *is* a great sample of lots of different types of family. I enjoyed reading about them even if I wouldn't want to live in them. Other reviewers have mentioned specifics about the different family styles covered so I won't go into that.

I will say that the best thing I got out of the book was that it's a great introduction to some really interesting writers. After reading this book, I went on to read the rest of Jenny Block's story in her book Open, asha bandele's The Prisoner's Wife and Something Like Beautiful, Not Buying it by Judith Levine and that's just the beginning. This book was a great way to get a taste of different authors before sinking the time (and/or money) into a full book by them.

I highly recommend this book!
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