The Mistress's Daughter
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The Mistress's Daughter

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by A. M. Homes
     
 

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An acclaimed novelist's riveting memoir about what it means to be adopted and how all of us construct our sense of self and family

Before A.M. Homes was born, she was put up for adoption. Her birth mother was a twenty-two- year-old single woman who was having an affair with a much older married man with children of his own. The Mistress's Daughter is

Overview

An acclaimed novelist's riveting memoir about what it means to be adopted and how all of us construct our sense of self and family

Before A.M. Homes was born, she was put up for adoption. Her birth mother was a twenty-two- year-old single woman who was having an affair with a much older married man with children of his own. The Mistress's Daughter is the story of what happened when, thirty years later, her birth parents came looking for her.

Homes, renowned for the psychological accuracy and emotional intensity of her storytelling, tells how her birth parents initially made contact with her and what happened afterward (her mother stalked her and appeared unannounced at a reading) and what she was able to reconstruct about the story of their lives and their families. Her birth mother, a complex and lonely woman, never married or had another child, and died of kidney failure in 1998; her birth father, who initially made overtures about inviting her into his family, never did.

Then the story jumps forward several years to when Homes opens the boxes of her mother's memorabilia. She had hoped to find her mother in those boxes, to know her secrets, but no relief came. She became increasingly obsessed with finding out as much as she could about all four parents and their families, hiring researchers and spending hours poring through newspaper morgues, municipal archives and genealogical Web sites. This brave, daring, and funny book is a story about what it means to be adopted, but it is also about identity and how all of us define our sense of self and family.

Editorial Reviews

Like many adopted children, novelist A. M. Homes grew up steeped in romantic fantasies about her origins. Having once imagined herself the love child of Susan Sontag and Jack Kerouac, she was sadly disillusioned when, at age 31 she met her birth parents for the first time. A far cry from Sontag, her mother was a lonely, overwhelmingly needy woman with (at best) a tenuous grasp on reality. Her father, though far more grounded, was an even bigger disappointment: After promising to make her part of his family, he never followed through -- a slight that first wounded, then enraged his long-lost daughter. In this rueful memoir, as disturbing and emotionally intense as any of her fiction, Homes mines the twin landscapes of adoption and identity and finally discovers, deep within herself, the true meaning of family and belonging.
Chicago Tribune
As a memoirist, A. M. Homes takes a characteristically fierce and fearless approach. And she has a whopper of a personal story to tell.
USA Today
Rich in humanity and humor . . . Homes combines an unfussy candor with a deliciously droll, quirky wit. . . . Her energy and urgency become infectious.
San Francisco Chronicle
As startling and riveting as her fiction . . . a lacerating memoir in which the formerly powerless child triumphs with the help of a mighty pen.
The New York Times Book Review
Fierce and eloquent.
Katie Roiphe
As a novelist, A. M. Homes has made a minor speciality of luridness. In all of her writing there is a latent sense that a crime has been or is about to be committed. Her memoir, The Mistress's Daughter, is no exception: it has the same foreboding, the same ambience of barely controlled menace. It opens with the sentence: "I remember their insistence that I come into the living room and sit down and how the dark room seemed suddenly threatening, how I stood in the kitchen doorway holding a jelly doughnut and how I never eat jelly doughnuts." And as Homes moves through her account of her origins, the prevailing mood is that of film noir.
— The New York Times
Jane
Knocks you on your ass with insights that remind why A.M. is a master.
Entertainment Weekly
A powerful examination of family and self, of the adopted versus the biological.
People Magazine
Riveting.
Bookforum
Homes evokes a surreal, at times harrowing quest for self-discovery and the meaning of family.
St. Louis Post Dispatch
An absorbing account of Homes' struggle to understand who, at multiple levels, she is...unsparing in its honesty and vivid in its detail.
Glamour
Mesmerizing...Homes explores how parents do-or in some cases don't-shape our lives.
Redbook
A devastating yet powerful identity search.
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Here is a family drama as a kind of emotional detective story...a truthful, agonizing story of one woman's search for a narrative life raft.
Elle Magazine
An unflinching exploration of the complex emotions surrounding Homes's brief contacts with her birth parents.
Harpers Bazaar
Fearless and emotionally searing.
More Magazine
Her best book...Homes brings her writer's eye for the painfully absurd to her own compelling story.
The Atlantic Monthly
Diamond-hard, with flashes of humor as well as brightness...a story to treasure.
The San Francisco Chronicle
As startling and riveting as her fiction...a lacerating memoir in which the formerly powerless child triumphs with the help of a mighty pen.
Publishers Weekly

Novelist Homes's searing 2004 New Yorkeressay 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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this nonfiction work, part of which previously appeared in The New Yorker, novelist Homes (In a Country of Mothers) explores her roots. At first, all she knew about her parentage was that she was adopted. But when she was 31, her birth mother reappeared, wanting to become involved in her life. Piece by piece, Homes learned more about her birth parents' lives, though their versions do not always match. She began to realize that her part in their relationship was almost incidental; both were more concerned with their own needs than with hers. Yet she was still compelled to try to understand their background and motivations, no matter how emotionally trying and painful. Homes draws you in from the first sentence and holds your interest throughout, sharing her fear, disappointment, pathos, and bathos. She creates a possible deposition scene with her birth father that is both devastating and brilliant, covering all the ground she has unearthed in her explorations. By the end, you'll feel glad that nurture rather than nature has been dominant in her upbringing. Highly recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/15/06.]
—Gina Kaiser
Kirkus Reviews
Adopted as a newborn, novelist Homes (This Book Will Save Your Life, 2006, etc.) finally meets her biological parents. The author embarked on this journey of self-discovery after being contacted by her biological mother, who gave birth to Homes as a result of an affair with her married employer at a Washington, D.C., dress shop. Ellen Ballman never wed, and she appears a lonely, erratic and needy lost soul to her 31-year-old daughter. Uneasy and frightened, Homes pushes her away, basically avoiding all but sporadic telephone contact after one face-to-face meeting. Upon learning of her death, Homes gathers Ballman's meager papers and belongings, putting them aside for seven years before sifting through them in an unsuccessful attempt to discover who she really was. Meanwhile, the author's biological father, still married with children, seems pleasant enough when she contacts him. They have several cordial lunches, and he persuades her to take a DNA test, which apparently confirms his paternity. But he never fulfills an early promise to introduce her to his family. Homes seems naively outraged by this, seemingly unaware how her presence around the Christmas dinner table might prove awkward for all concerned. Years later, after she has penned a thinly disguised magazine article about their relationship, he refuses to provide the DNA test and ceases all communication with her. We can't help but wonder why the author, who kept her emotionally fragile mother at arm's length, complains bitterly when her biological father does the same to her. Though fairly riveting in its early stages, the narrative sags noticeably when Homes launches a genealogical research project into both her biological andadoptive families. That exercise, like much of this unsatisfying and depressing story, proves to be of far more interest to the principals involved than to the reader. Ultimately off-putting and unappealing, due to a whiny, self-pitying attitude conveyed in overwrought prose.
From the Publisher
"A compelling, devastating, and furiously good book written with an honesty few of us would risk."
-Zadie Smith

"Fierce and eloquent."
-The New York Times Book Review

"As startling and riveting as her fiction . . . a lacerating memoir in which the formerly powerless child triumphs with the help of a mighty pen."
-San Francisco Chronicle

"Rich in humanity and humor . . . Homes combines an unfussy candor with a deliciously droll, quirky wit. . . . Her energy and urgency become infectious."
-USA Today

"I fell in love with it from the first page and read compulsively to the end."
-Amy Tan

"As a memoirist, A. M. Homes takes a characteristically fierce and fearless approach. And she has a whopper of a personal story to tell."
-Chicago Tribune

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670038381
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/05/2007
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Mary Gaitskill
The Mistress's Daughter is an emotional experience - outraging, profoundly saddening, moving, and ultimately triumphant.
From the Publisher
"A compelling, devastating, and furiously good book written with an honesty few of us would risk."
-Zadie Smith

"Fierce and eloquent."
-The New York Times Book Review

"As startling and riveting as her fiction . . . a lacerating memoir in which the formerly powerless child triumphs with the help of a mighty pen."
-San Francisco Chronicle

"Rich in humanity and humor . . . Homes combines an unfussy candor with a deliciously droll, quirky wit. . . . Her energy and urgency become infectious."
-USA Today

"I fell in love with it from the first page and read compulsively to the end."
-Amy Tan

"As a memoirist, A. M. Homes takes a characteristically fierce and fearless approach. And she has a whopper of a personal story to tell."
-Chicago Tribune

Jamie Lee Curtis
Veracious words on the complexity and ambiguity of the fractured life of an adopted child. Celebratory and shattering, it will leave you asking yourself, adopted or not, who AM I?
Sean Wilsey
Both a heartbreak and a thrill to read, The Mistress's Daughter is a radiantly smart memoir of pain and self discovery, outlined in savage, very strange detail. A.M. Homes is a writer of extraordinary depth and courage and grace. Her story will knock you down and pick you back up again.
Amy Tan
The Mistress's Daughter has the beguiling pull of mystery, memory, and surprise. I fell in love with it from the first page and read compulsively to the end. It lays bare those questions about our essential selves: How did we become who we are? What elements of inheritance, neglect, accident, and choice gave us our confused identity, our quirky personality, our urges to be wholly loved? As A.M. Homes shows, there are no definitive answers, but in our search for them, we find more important truths.
Zadie Smith
A compelling, devastating, and furiously good book written with an honesty few of us would risk.

Meet the Author

A.M. Homes is the author of several books of fiction. She has been awarded a Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York
Date of Birth:
December 18, 1961
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
Education:
B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A., University of Iowa Writers¿ Workshop

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Mistress's Daughter 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
MisTom3 More than 1 year ago
I am adopted & have always known it. I met my biological mothers side of the family about 5 years ago. I have yet to meet his side. Many of the thoughts she expressed in this book I have had myself. I was disappointed in her use of the terms "mom" & "dad". Just because they procreated doesn't mean they are your parents. Your parents are the people who raised you. Perhaps there were problems with her parents that she didn't touch on. I just thought that part a little off putting. All in all a very well written book though.
Slow-Reader More than 1 year ago
The book was good in the beginning and makes you wonder what is going to happen, but then it gets into ancestry research and gets really boring. The ending is is unresovled, and just leaves you there...no where.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm an adoptee, too. I couldn't help but think when I read this book how angry this author was. I actually felt taken aback when I encountered the anger in her writing. I felt very sorry for her, but she did treat her birthparents very badly. Not that they were the most upstanding and honest of people, though. Her birthmother could have had an abortion, but she chose not to. I am grateful every day that my birthmother chose to put me up for adoption.
OhioReader More than 1 year ago
While the story is a touching one with sensitive issues there wasn't any real climax to the story. While I suppose this is good it lends itself to ho-hum reading enjoyment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I disliked this book very much because of the author's behavior toward her biological mother who wanted to have a relationship with her. The mother did what she thought was best for the child by giving her up for adoption and yet she was rejected by an ungrateful daughter. I found the pain she caused her mother totally unacceptable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Holmes has written a book that is fraught with anger and revenge. Image the expectant mother considering her choices and wants to offer her baby for adoption only to fear the consequences outlined in 'Mistress' Daughter'. Ms Holmes reveals how she stalked her biological father and dismissed and rejected her dying mother. Imagine again the prospective adoptive parents seeing their future adopted child cast aside the upper-middle class priveledged life her new family offered filled with the best of Ivy-League education and real advantages. Ms Holmes is consumed by the need for someone to pay for her unhappiness 'from what you keep asking'. She wants no part of the penniless dying mother but goes directly for the 'pay dirt' she invisions from her biological wealthy father. She 'won't be ignored' a la 'Fatal Attraction' and seems surprised that her newly found family rejects her seige mentality. This book is another me-generation anthemn that uses any fear or hurt, real or imaged as the basis for 'setting the record straight' whatever the consequences. Speaking of straight Ms Holmes gets that wrong too. She delights in word games about her sexuality. She plays with the subject as if she enjoys confusing the readers and the public. I look forward to the book to be written some years from now by her daughter holding Ms Holmes accountable for every uncertainty and failed expectation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LynninSanDiego More than 1 year ago
For some reason my husband purchased this book for me. The premise of this book, adult adopted child finds biological parents, offered some promise. However the author slogged us through her depressing experience with her new found parents, sometimes peppered with sarcastic humor, to the point that I stopped reading the book. There was nothing inspiring in the tale, no indication that the author would rise above the situation, no relief from her self pity. Lynn in San Diego
EMP More than 1 year ago
The presentation, or style, is very different than what I anticipated. I felt the author's angst, and was captivated to find out what happened next. At the same time, I felt like the author tried very hard to remain impartial. I'm not sure she achieved this, and I'm not sure that it worked best for the story that needed to be told. It seemed she attempted to be the "bigger" person, but I don't feel she pulled it off. I think the book provides a great opportunity for discussion, and analysis. The book holds a very real and powerful message for others who may be searching for their birth parents.
cuvr2cuvr More than 1 year ago
Ms. Holmes was fortunate in meeting her birth parents when her personality was already formed. It certainly made for a good read. She is a talented writer,with the ability to make you feel her hope,disappointments, vindication, and fulfillment. It's a ride!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an adoptee, currently seeking my biological parents. I didn't think this book was very good. I wouldn't ever pass up the opportunnity or treat my birth parents as bad as she does
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book had an interesting almost satirical look on society and behaviors on people. Her judgment on her family was harsh, but not unreasonable. Homes was able to pin human emotion without trying to hard. This bold memoir was humorous, depressing, and eye opening. A recommended read for sure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am glad I checked this book out at my library rather then spending money on wasted books. It really made no sense. Not even a good story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I listened to this book on audio book and enjoyed it very much. This is probably the type of book that is better when listened to than read. You can get inside the story and feel the writers emotions. The story is well done and depicts how the adoptee really feels...why sugar coat everything?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I find this memoir very honest and brave...she is a master of words for she can make you feel how exactly she felt at every moment...it got a little bit boring thou when it came to the 'internet searching' thing but nevertheless her findings were still interesting...she ended it well and I would recommend it to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In spite of what many would describe as an ideal upper-middle class life Ms Homes takes us on a journey downward where she condemns almost everyone that ever attempted to help her. Yes, she was surrounded by various flawed characters, aren't we all? The difference here is that she intends to makes each of us pay to view her very public flogging of her family seeking revenge and retribution. The more she describes the family she has apparently grown to despise the more she seems exactly like the characters she condemns In the not too distant past one forgave those that unintentionally hurt us. Ms Homes is not satisfied until she makes everyone pay (including us). Sell tickets to your classless revenge play somewhere else
Guest More than 1 year ago
When the first part of the book was published in 'The New Yorker' several years, I was very interested, but this expanded book was a disappointment. I guess she had a contract to finish it, and the result is the original article, slightly expanded, followed by a less-than-useful account of her internet search for genelogy. The author's bitterness is hard to take. Life is short seek out answers from people who can provide them. So many other books provide a positive, life-affirming view of adoption, and I think your time is better spend reading them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the superior 'The Woman Who Raised Me,' this book was like a slap in the face. If you need any more proof of the young woman's bitterness at being adopted, google her name and listen to one of the several interviews online. Her other books make me wonder why no one flagged her writings like that boy at Virginia Tech. She seems disturbed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. It was incredibly interesting, thoughtful, engaging, brave...smart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could o/not put this book down. Insightful and brave and captivating
Guest More than 1 year ago
With the 'New Yorker' magazine article publication, it felt like Homes finally consummated numerous compelling revelations about her adoption and subsequent events. It's nonspecificity made her thoughts cosmopolitan and alluring. Her wretchedness seemed intolerable. Her fiction works had authentication. Her book is the antithesis of sophisticated essay. The more explicit her details, the less the essence of her chronicle rivet the reader. Malevolence supplanted empathetic humanism. Indubitably, Homes's adoption lacerated her intellect birthing her fiction. 30 years later, trying to ferret out the cipher from strangers & promiscuous documents is absurd. Her 'imagining my mother' 'page. 130, etc.' is fiction, not memoir. It diminishes the book.