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Leave it to Me Unknown Binding – 1997
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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In the novel, Debby DiMartino is a half white, half "Asian national" adopted by an Italian couple in Schenectady. Sit down for this folks: her birth father is a homicidal maniac rotting in an Indian prison and her birth mother is a San Francisco flower child who helped him murder 17 people in a frenzy of human sacrifice, drugs, and naked dancing. The pair tried to kill their child, Debby, as a toddler. Left for dead, she is rescued by the Gray Nuns and subsequently adopted in America. Years later, the blissfully ignorant and blissfully boring Debby burns down an ex-lover's mansion and kills a woman in the process. She flees New York and heads for San Francisco in search of her birth parents. Even though she's living out of her car, Debby (now Devi) manages to date a rich movie producer who helps her find her birth mother. As it turns out, Mr. Movie Producer knows her birth mother and the plot weakens from there.
Let's not go on. Let's simply look at the foibles already garishly displayed in this unrealistic story. First of all, the cliches, the random violence, and the over-sexed protagonist scream made for t.v. movie success. (If I were Mukherjee's agent I'd be begging her to sell to a network.) Most of the adoptee's I know have really interesting stories, but they are interesting in a quiet, contemplative, non-violent way. Given that, this plot is an insult to everyone in the adoption triad. Birth parents are not maniacal killers who attempt to murder their children and only put them up for adoption as an afterthought. Adoptees most certainly do not act upon homicidal urges they do not know they have inherited. On the whole, the notion that homicidal tendencies are inheritable is cast in much doubt. Despite this, adoption seems to be the exception to the scientific rule. References about how adoption makes people crazy, I mean psychopathic, abound. (I'm reminded of Kramer's bon mots on the sitcom "Seinfeld" regarding the Son of Sam murders that adoption obviously leads to serial killing.) This is the kind of attention the adoption community certainly doesn't need. And these are the sorts of wild, far-fetched stories that are eclipsing plain old adopted folks' need to search and right to know.
Mukherjee's portrayal of Devi qua adoptee is shallow and predictable. For example, we are subjected to the obligatory adoptee-identifying-with-the-dog-at-the-pound scene where Devi sadly remarks, "Poor mutt. It was bread like me, with crossed signals and conflicting impulses." Oh, come on. Could we please, please move beyond portrayals of adoptees that absolutely drip with treacle and pathos? Didn't Mukherjee ever learn the first rule of creative writing: don't point out the obvious? Obviously not.
Finally, I remark on a quote that is the best of the worst. Poor Devi, reflecting on her abandonment says, "I felt sad for the baby girl the Gray Nuns'd brought to visit the prisoner. I felt sad for all the dumped and discarded. I heard the cypresses wail." When I read this I had no choice other than to break into peals of hysterical laughter. This is truly the coup de grace. What exactly (someone please tell me) is a WAILING CYPRESS and how in the world does it come to symbolize adoption? It's this kind of linguistic laziness used to describe adoption and tendency to think of it in oh-so-metaphysical and otherworldy and sappy terms that are a bore, a disservice, and a discredit. One of the obstacles to real adoption reform is that most people form opinions based on an idealized notion of adoption: publishing novels describing adoption as "wailing cypresses" does more harm than good.
Do not buy this book. It is poorly written, the plot is stupid, the characterization is weak and anyone in the adoption triad is bound to be insulted somewhere along the way. If you're not in the triad you'll be sorely misinformed for your efforts and not entertained at all! I have a great suggestion: use the money you save on the book and take an adoptee to lunch. His or her reunion story, I promise you, will be fascinating.
The thing I really disliked about this book was that the novel's main character Devi was just unlovable. She doesn't seem to have very many redeeming qualities; she's naive, jealous, irrational, and using this as an understatement, angry. Her mental processes jump every which way throughout the novel making it hard to follow what she is thinking.
On top of all this, the plot itself is ludicrous. The introduction was misleadingly interesting, but it has nothing to do with the story itself . The story's plot has alot of wierd, nonsensical twists which is frustrating. And though the ending is far from predictable, it's not "real".
The undertones of this book was very angry, so if you really don't feel like wasting your time to just get pissed off, don't bother with this book.
The writing is not even up to the level of supermarket pulp novels. The main character is an utterly unsympathetic self-described "waif" who isn't even particularly interesting. I can't make myself care how many men she slept with, much less why her tastes run from movie producers to shell-shocked Vietnam vets. No motivation is ever given for Devi's tendencies toward shoplifting, promiscuity, or murderousness (which in itself is apparently intended as pop-psychology shorthand for self-destructiveness) except that she is the abandoned daughter of an American hippie and an Asian pseudo-cult leader, and at one point she states that she believes in nature over nurture. Maybe she's just a horrifyingly immature brat. In chorus with Mukherjee, Devi drags us on her bad trip that promised an intriguing premise, but quickly turned into an exercise in unintelligent absurdity. If this book really was a work of pulp rather than a novel with pretensions to mythological allegory, it would probably be a lot more fun.
I didn't pay a dime for this book, just pulled it out of a box of throwaways from a friend who was moving, and I can see why it was destined for the garbage pile.
The main character is an adopted girl who has had a safe and secure Italian-American childhood in Schenectady, NY but goes in search of her birth parents. In California, she discovers that they are both dangerous and totally whacko, and that she, herself, is more a product of nature than nurture.
This has a better story line than any in Mukherjee's short story collection entitled "Darkness," but it is equally wierd. "Leave it to Me" and "Darkness" are similarly creepy books and not up to Mukherjee's usual brilliant standards.