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On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain
     

On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain

by Debra Monroe
 

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After moving to a humble cottage outside of a tiny Texas town, Debra Monroe rids herself of an abusive husband, battles sexist contractors and workers as she renovates her home, and finally, after several disheartening letdowns, is able to adopt her beautiful baby daughter, Marie. Though elated that her dream is coming true, Monroe faces trials that befall her not

Overview

After moving to a humble cottage outside of a tiny Texas town, Debra Monroe rids herself of an abusive husband, battles sexist contractors and workers as she renovates her home, and finally, after several disheartening letdowns, is able to adopt her beautiful baby daughter, Marie. Though elated that her dream is coming true, Monroe faces trials that befall her not just as a single mother but as a white mother of a black child. In On the Outskirts of Normal, two-time National Book Award nominee Monroe’s heart creaks “like china with hairline cracks” each time a racist comment rolls their way or stares linger a little too long in their direction. Though she and her daughter face serious undiagnosed illnesses leading to innumerable, painful doctor visits, Monroe remains steadfast in her dedication to Marie and their small but tight family.

Reading On the Outskirts of Normal at times feels like driving through an unwieldy thunderstorm at night on the unlit country roads that snake their way to Monroe’s house in the woods; readers will feel her exhaustion but will be buoyed by her ever-present faith and fiery love. Pulitzer Prize winner Madeleine Blais writes that On the Outskirts of Normal is the “real deal: both a literary triumph and a triumph of the heart.”

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Monroe doesn’t waste time justifying her family to others—her care and cleareyed focus on her daughter make their own argument. It’s absolutely clear this is the life she chose.”—Amy Benfer, Barnes & Noble Review

"REQUIRED READING: In a setting where working mothers are rare, novelist and single mom Debra Monroe’s adoption of a black baby puts her On the Outskirts of Normal."—Vanity Fair

"Debra Monroe writes about the complications, and gifts, of transracial adoption."—Salon.com

"Infused with humor and compassion, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. What shines throughout the book is Monroe’s love for the little girl who transformed her life."—Chitra Divakaruni, Houston Chronicle

"Monroe is a loveable narrrator . . . [but] sweet, intelligent Marie positively steals the show."—Kansas City Star

"While Monroe may not unravel all the riddles of race by the end of this immaculately written memoir, what she does reveal is a far greater truth about the love of a good mother."—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"A single woman’s spunky memoir about the hazards and rewards of building a home and family outside a small Texas town, this tale of trials and triumph is an engaging, poignant read."—Kirkus Reviews

"Monroe and [her daughter] Marie may not have set out to teach the world something about love breaking barriers, but you can’t read this book and not root for them, just as you won’t be able to read this without hoping for the day when race will be a non-issue."—Dallas Morning News

Vanity Fair
In a setting where working mothers are rare, novelist and Debra Monroe’s adoption of a black baby puts her On the Outskirts of Normal.
Foreword Reviews
Monroe delivers compassion, keen wit, and acute honesty. She never lets us blink; we stare while she figures out how to handle her daughter's hair; while she suffers at the hands of a doctor; and while her neighbor makes a bad judgment call, leaving her yard and house exposed to passing cars and random predators. She shares her fear with us, and, in doing so, reveals her own bravery
Barnes & Noble Review - Amy Benfer
Monroe doesn’t waste time justifying her family to others—her care and clear-eyed focus on her daughter make their own argument. It’s absolutely clear this is the life she chose. “The sprawling mess of life is why we need stories,” she writes, “a fleeting sense of order so we return to life with the unproven but irresistible conviction our mistakes and emergencies matter
Naomi Shihab Nye
High-velocity verve and gripping insight matched in rare form by the level of compassion—anyone who cares this much about getting a little girl’s hair just right is a truly endearing person. Flaws and question marks, local places, very particular people, wit and weariness and astonishment at the myriad ways a life unfolds—inviting readers not only to the comfortable “outskirts of normal” but the genuine heart of it all.
author of First Comes Love - Marion Winik
Having driven across the country to see her brand-new adopted granddaughter, Debra Monroe’s mother says the first thing that comes into her head. “I knew she’d be black, but not this black.” There are many possible reactions to this, but Monroe simply says, “Mom, there’s a blank in the baby book called ‘Grandma’s First Words.’” The sly, dry humor of this—the offering of the second chance, the reminder that everything, even the mistakes, will be written down—tells you everything you need to know about Monroe’s approach to life, and memoir. Monroe’s generosity of spirit and excellent word choice never fail her.
Pulitzer Prize winner and author of In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle - Madeleine Blais
Debra Monroe’s On the Outskirts of Normal is a modern story with a generous dose of old-fashioned values at its core. The adoption of a beautiful black baby girl by a white single woman shouldn’t still be news in today’s America, but it is, perhaps especially so in a small Texas town. Told in a voice that is feisty, wise, unsentimental, humorous, candid, and consoling, Debra Monroe’s memoir of love that was lost, but now is found, will entrance its readers, who will surely admire the author’s ability to transcend negative or befuddled reactions to her and her daughter as she inaugurates a whole new conversation about the true meaning of family. This book is the real deal: both a literary triumph and a triumph of the heart.
National Book Award-winning author of Easy in the Islands and Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love - Bob Shacochis
Sometimes the barren years bloom, flourishing atop old scar tissue, and give each of us a new heart. This, then, is the promise of Debra Monroe’s extraordinarily poignant, powerfully written memoir, which charts one woman’s tenacious journey into strength and unlikely motherhood and unexpected joys. She gathers along the way the brave yet painful knowledge of what love costs. Monroe is an unflinching commentator on self as well as society, a myth-buster as well as a trailblazer in an America that is neither post-racial nor post-sexist, and I suspect the significance of this book will only grow in value, a cultural benchmark, in the years and decades ahead of us.
author of Somebody Else’s Mama and The Full Matilda - David Haynes
Compelling and full of pain and honesty, On the Outskirts of Normal wrestles with the messiness of the search for insight in the wake of trouble. Debra Monroe approaches the subject of race, always fraught with landmines, with humor and humility. Full of stylish shifts and comic, edgy observations, Monroe’s story reveals much about parents who are present and parents who are absent, about good and bad caregiving, and about the stability of the places we call home.
author of Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time and Truck: A Love Story - Michael Perry
Any narrator who repels an intruding raccoon by pelting it with books of poems has my full attention. Debra Monroe has written a wise, unsparing testament to the fierceness and fragility of love.
author of Being With Rachel - Karen Brennan
Debra Monroe forges not only her charming “family against the grain,” but a remarkable canniness about motherhood and its twin perils, grief and love.
Salon
Debra Monroe writes about the complications, and gifts, of transracial adoption.
People
Should a middle-aged white woman with a history of failed relationships try to raise a black baby in small-town Texas? Author Monroe proves she's got the right stuff. Candid about men, mothering, racism, and her own flaws, she shows that it's possible to create something beautiful out of a tattered past.
Atlanta Journal Constitution
If On the Outskirts of Normal were a country-rock song, Lucinda Williams would sing it. In this graceful, disquieting and intensely felt account of her navigation from the outskirts to normal, Monroe offers the story of how she became the mother she needed to be—not to Marie, who in Monroe always had a fine mother, but for herself, so she could finally have and keep what she deserved.
the Oprah Magazine O
An unsentimental memoir about a white woman who adopts a black baby in a small Texas town.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780820349114
Publisher:
University of Georgia Press
Publication date:
11/01/2015
Edition description:
Reissue
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
1,026,857
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

DEBRA MONROE teaches in the MFA Program at Texas State University. She is the author of several books, including The Source of Trouble (winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award).

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