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A Memoir

by A.M. Homes

Pub Date: April 9th, 2007
ISBN: 0-670-03838-5
Publisher: Viking

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 naïvely 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 and adoptive 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.