The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir by A.M. Homes

A.M. Homes is a bastard.  Literally, archaically speaking, she is. It's the kind of no-nonsense, bullshitless, provocative line A.M. Homes might have invoked about herself. Maybe. I say it about her in a spirit of the utmost homage and admiration of Homes' raw transparency, so well chronicled in her memoir, The Mistress's Daughter.  A.M. Homes' bio-mom got knocked up at seventeen.  Her bio-dad was a married man of then only meager entrepreneurial means (though by the time A.M. Homes finally met him thirty-three years after he'd "fathered" her, he was quite well-to-do); a half-man/half-boy atrophied in his pathetic football adolescence, yet with a real doll of a society wife and four no doubt charming kids standing by his philandering side.  Know that the bio-dad -- in essence, little more than a spoonful of ejaculate -- is the real fucking bastard of this sad, though adoption-affirming, inspiring as it is shocking, true tale.

Until reading A.M. Homes' (she's "Amy" here on out) magnificent memoir -- a treatise of sorts on the trials of familial injustice -- I viewed her wrongly as being like the preeminent shock-jock of contemporary U.S. literature.  Like Howard Stern's highbrow sidekick, had such a sidekick existed.  I viewed Amy that way because I had no idea where the grotesque satire of her short stories (which is all I'd ever read by her) was coming from.  I knew she'd been adopted, but I had no real conception of how powerful were the psychic forces at work on her life and in her writing, first unleashed on Christmas Eve, 1992, when her adoptive mother, the only mother she'd ever known, informed her that their adoption attorney had called them out of the blue, having himself been contacted by Amy's biological mother, who requested that the adoption attorney have it communicated to Amy that, if Amy wanted to, it would be okay for Amy to contact her, the bio-mom.  The adoption attorney complicated matters by contacting Amy's adoptive-mom with the news rather than Amy directly.  WTF? was Amy's initial reaction to everything and everyone involved in this bombshell.  Amy's life, as she'd known it up to then, was over.  Not over for the worse entirely.  But it would feel like the worse for her in a lot of fundamental ways for many years until she was able to see her bio-mom for the irreparably wounded woman she was; for the woman who never recovered from the exploitation and abandonment of her sickeningly narcissistic, summer-house-in-the-Hamptons-habitating, bio-dad, the coward who'd had her as that young piece of ass and then tossed her like so much used porn alongside the road.  Amy Homes was thirty-one that Christmas Eve, on the cusp of discovering over the next fourteen years who she was, what she was made of, and perhaps more importantly, who she wasn't, what she wasn't made of.

portrait by Heather Conley
"It's one of the pathological complications of adoption -- adoptees don't really have rights, their lives are about supporting the secrets, the needs and desires of others."  ~ A.M. Homes, from The Mistress's Daughter

As an adoptive parent myself, I am helped a lot in understanding many of the frustrations and fears potentially faced by my adopted kids, gleaned from reading so much practical wisdom (like what's quoted above -- thank you, Amy!) even though none are yet adults, nor been sought after, so far, by persons of their biological beginnings.

What a phenomenal memoir, The Mistress's Daughter.  It's as uncomfortably honest and unflinching as any I've ever read.  Whatever fresh yet refined outrage emerges in Amy's telling, I know now -- no matter what that crackpot critic with her Pulitzer Prize, Michiko Kakutani, ever spews in ignorance, misperception, personal bias or outright lies, about the artistic aspirations of A.M. Homes -- is not driven by a desire to shock just for sensationalistic shocking's-sake (though shock you she will assuming you're human and not some vindictive robot writing book reviews for The New York Times -- and that -- no matter how desensitized you are to cruelty and hypocrisy), but to reveal the appalling truth and nothing but the appalling truth, Your Honor; the hardcore galling truth of her long-suffering journey to Identity; to some semblance of Acceptance after surviving the primal hells of the most heartless parental rejections; to a place of Peace after legal wrangling and threat of war, compelling her at all hours through a country of mothers, fathers, and other relative strangers on the internet, and landing her ultimately in an idyllic home with a garden on Long Island -- near her adoptive roots and the nourishing memories of her "grandiloquent" adoptive grandmother -- where A.M. Homes can breathe and just be again.


  1. Wow, so fascinating - the memoir sounds very powerful. Have only recently started to read her work(short stories and May We Be Forgiven) - what an incredible writer, adding this to the must read list.


Post a Comment