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Book Club: The Mistress’s Daughter

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Book Club: The Mistress’s Daughter

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The Plot: While we’ve heard a lot about adopted children searching out their birth children, novelist AM Homes was 31-years-old when her biological mother came looking for her. Except mom wasn’t the dolled-up fantasy parent she always imagined — just a lonely, eccentric old woman craving connection. Equal parts curiosity and skepticism, Homes sets out to understand her family’s past, and what it means about her future. LAUREN (Articles Editor): I know Homes is a great novelist but to me, this memoir felt like she was cashing in.

YAEL (Associate Editor): It’s a great argument for not telling your kid that they’re adopted. Maybe there are some things that are better left unknown.

JOANNA (Editor in Chief): Really? You can’t be serious. Nothing’s more important that knowing where you come from.

EILEEN (Editorial Assistant): I might be biased because I’m a really big fan of her other books. Which are pretty dark. “In a Country of Mothers,” the main character goes to a psychiatrist and talks about being adopted, and the psychiatrist realizes the patient is really her biological daughter and begins to stalk her. It’s interesting to see parallels in her own life.

ABIGAIL (Deputy Editor): I don’t think I’d call this book dark though. Just cynical. LAUREN: Yeah…and melodramatic. When she says “the deep chaos that has been my existence…”? Please, she’s adopted, not a former child soldier.

YAEL: Or how about when she says about her biological dad, “I imagine him fucking me.” I don’t know if that’s dark or just wrong.

JOANNA: Er, wrong!

EILEEN:I don’t remember that but I’m glad I blocked it out.

LAUREN: Ugh, that was so blatantly Freud! The sexual tension she created with her father creeped me out. Maybe this is my own warped mind, but given the title The Mistress’s Daughter, I kept thinking the fact that she had been bred of this affair was going to play a bigger role in the way she defined herself. You know, what does it say about me? Am I a slut, too?

ABIGAIL: Well, I did like the idea of looking into her identity. I mean, I’ve been lucky enough to see my own grandparents grow old. I see elements of myself in them and it gives me a hint about how I might handle things later in life. So I can understand wanting to know where you come from. YAEL:What did you guys think about the way her Jewish upbringing played into it? She was so fixated on this idea of never having a Christmas tree and how because of that her family wasn’t normal. And now, she has this biological father who does celebrate the Christmas but never invites her in. It reminded me of that Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry David thinks he’d been adopted, finds his biological parents who weren’t Jewish and suddenly he was able to let go of all of his stereotypical Jewish neuroses.

LAUREN: I wanted to know more about her adoptive parents. She says in one paragraph that she never felt her adoptive mother really loved her because she had once lost a son. And that’s it! Moving on… And I was like, that’s a whole book right there! That was the real stuff! But she never really went into it. The rest of it — with all the genealogy stuff — read like she was ranting in a journal that she kept and decided to publish.

YAEL: She never put it all out there, — and I don’t blame her — I wouldn’t want the whole world to know my business either. The idea of a memoir, working out very personal stuff in the public sphere, is kind of bizarre. That said, if you commit to writing one, you have to be prepared to lay yourself bare. Don’t you?

JOANNA: It’s a bit of a con to us poor readers if she doesn’t.

ABIGAIL: At least the writing was really nice.

LAUREN: Yeah—that part when her biological mother is begging to meet her, and Homes writes “I am tempted to tell her, You can’t see me right now, because right now I am not visible to anyone, even myself. I have evaporated.” Evaporated. It was such an interesting way of saying it.

YAEL: My favorite line was when she says “I was suffering the deafness that comes in moments of great importance.” I’ve definitely experienced that. When someone’s telling you the most important piece of information you’ve ever heard and ten minutes later you can’t remember the details. It’s just too bad the story felt incomplete. But it’s probably incomplete in her own life, too.
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