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The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir Hardcover – April 5, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (April 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038381
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,394,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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 meeting—and facing—one'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.


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Customer Reviews

Oh, and genealogy is very boring to read about when its not your own!
S. Moreau
I'm not adopted*** so perhaps her ambivalent feelings about both sets of parents are normal.
Karen Marie
I usually give away my books after I read them, but I will be reading this one again.
bookarts

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By bookarts on April 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While I think it is possible for anyone to appreciate the beautiful writing and the touching story of The Mistress's Daughter, it surely carries special meaning for adoptees. I am quite sure that I am not the only adoptee who nodded her head throughout the book as Homes articulated so many of the thoughts I have had about myself and my family through the years. Another reviewer complained that Homes was only speculating about her birth parent's lives in the second half of the book, yet that was exactly the point. After years with thousands of questions and no answers, adoptees who have met their birth parents are usually met with the disappointing realization that they will never have all the answers. The speculation never ends. Homes' book was note-perfect in capturing that and so many other aspects of the adoption experience. I usually give away my books after I read them, but I will be reading this one again.

I feel compelled to address one other issue. As an adoptee, I found one reviewer's headline, "A Case For Abortion", to be incredibly offensive. I am pro-choice, but telling an adoptee they should have been aborted simply because you don't like what they wrote is disgusting. I too question the motives of some of the negative reviewers, some of whom clearly did not read the book.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Nancy J. Mumford on April 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Interesting that the two negative reviews posted so far come from people in Washington - wonder who they are and how they are connected to the story??

I read this book in about 3 hours in one sitting and was absolutely fascinated. Rather than being a typical story of an adopted child who rediscovers her wonderful birth parents, A.M. Homes is truthful about her fears and the emotional rollercoaster this information sends her on. Her relationships with her newly discovered biological parents are unsatisfying for various reasons and she struggles with her feelings and definition of what a family is. I thought the book offered a very interesting perspective and was well done. Recommended!
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By subway reader on April 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't put down---I've been reading Homes work for many years--going back to her first novel Jack--and on through the terrifying End of Alice--the smart stories in Things You Should Know and last year's inspiring, This Book Will Save Your Life. Now Homes is letting us into her life--giving her readers the back story on who she is. And it's a real case of truth being stranger than fiction. I admire her for letting us in, for sharing the incredible sadness of finding out who her biological parents were--both of them seem soo incredibly self involved, narcisistic--in the end it's a good thing that Homes' was adopted by a family who seemed to truly "get" her and to support her artistic endeavors. This is a heartbreaking and wonderful read--and really informative for those of us who don't know the world of adoption--of searching and reunion with lost family. I really enjoyed the second half of the book--which takes the reader on a kind of wild ride though the land of internet geneology and search for self.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lynn V. on April 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was eagerly awaiting the release of this book. I just finished it and as an adoptee, I think A.M. Homes got the tone just right. She honestly deals with the feelings that are prevalent in many adoptees. Hers was an interesting story without the happy ending, but she seems to come away stronger for it and realize she is a composite of nature and nurture, not just a biological product of one set of parents. I agree that the second half is a little scattered and not as concise as in the brilliant first half, previously published in the New Yorker. As for those reviewers who criticized her "imaginings," that is pretty much all most adoptees have. There is little reality to their existence, just what they have been told. Recommended for adoptees, anyone who is struggling with identity issues or those who just appreciate an interesting story.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A Google search of the term "genealogy" yields more than 47 million hits. With the growth of the Internet, it is indisputable that the impulse to trace one's ancestors has become a source of passionate engagement for many. Paralleling that phenomenon is the explosive popularity of the memoir genre. These trends converge with considerable power in A.M. Homes's frank and moving new memoir, THE MISTRESS'S DAUGHTER.

Recognized as a keen-eyed observer of contemporary society in her fiction (THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS, THIS BOOK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE), Homes shifts her vision inward with equal acuity in this work. During a visit to her adoptive parents in Washington, D.C. at Christmas 1992, she learns --- through the family lawyer who had arranged her private adoption in 1961 --- that her mother, Ellen Ballman, who gave birth to her at the age of 22, wants to make contact. Homes's birth was the culmination of a relationship Ellen had had with a married employer almost 20 years her senior.

At first, Homes's engagement with her mother is unsettling, as Ellen lurks around the fringes of the author's appearance at a Washington bookstore and peppers her with phone calls and letters. Their first real meeting, at New York's Plaza Hotel, is poignant, if awkward. After devouring a lobster dinner, Ellen seeks her daughter's forgiveness for giving her up. Homes readily grants it in that encounter, but tensions between them soon emerge. Ellen persists in reaching out to a child who is unwilling to reciprocate the feelings of a woman she considers strange and difficult.
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