A.M. Homes,
The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir
(Viking, 2007)

In her autobiography, The Mistress's Daughter, novelist A.M. Homes writes about meeting her biological parents 31 years after they gave her up for adoption. She wrote the first half of the book as a 2004 New Yorker essay on what she describes as "the most ethereal and biological emotional experience of her life to date." Homes succeeds wildly at transporting the reader to this emotional turmoil with her sparse, haunting language. She uses her gifts as a novelist to propel the reader along her journey to find and then to lose her biological parents.

Book One, "The Mistress's Daughter," which was excerpted in the New Yorker, probes family and self. Ellen (the clingy ex-mistress) and Norman (the arrogant, lecherous married man) contact their biological daughter and request a reunion. Homes is wary of the pair, and is soon being stalked by her needy mother and swept under the rug by her all-about-appearances father.

Of Ellen, she writes: "The more Ellen and I talk, the happier I am that she gave me up."

Book Two is composed of several essays about Homes's decades-later exploration of her parents' lives and genealogy. Homes wrote the book over a period of years, and her narrative is the strongest in Book One, perhaps because she has edited and distanced herself the most from those early meetings. Book Two is meandering and haphazard (even boring, when genealogy is recounted in tedious detail), but no less fierce.

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

5 January 2008

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