From Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr.)
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Critics agree that the first part of A. M. Homes's book, an expanded version of a 2004 New Yorker
essay, is a riveting family story. Told in the same taut prose that gives her fiction (In a Country of Mothers
, 1993; Music for Torching
, 1999) its "stylish nihilism" (New York Times
), The Mistress's Daughter
offers a straightforward, unblinking account of meetingand facingone's birth parents for the first time. The mixed reviews stem from an equally mixed bag of reactions. A few critics decry the dramatic drop-off when Homes expands the scope of her genealogical research outside her two birth parents. Others find the author's indignation and tightly controlled rage poignant. Homes treads the memoirist's paper-thin line between self-discovery and egocentrism with marginal success.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.