SURRENDERED CHILD by Karen Salyer McElmurray


A Birth Mother’s Journey
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Novelist McElmurray (Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven, 1999) recounts in overwrought prose how she gave up her newborn son for adoption and lived to regret it.

Although she can’t remember whether her baby was born in June or July 1973, the author describes vividly the harrowing experience of giving birth at age 16. She never explicitly explains why she decided to give up her son, or why she refused to allow her father to adopt him, but she makes it abundantly clear that her own parents were poor role models, dwelling on the awfulness of her mother, an agoraphobic, controlling woman obsessed with cleanliness and incapable of showing love. When her parents divorced, McElmurray chose to live with her father and quickly plunged into a world of drugs, drinking, and teenage sex. A pregnant runaway at 15, she lived the hippie life until hauled home by her father and forced into marriage. Winner of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction, her memoir features a graphic account of her hippie days that is creative indeed. What McElmurray (Creative Writing/Georgia College and State Univ.) cannot remember she recreates, leaving the reader wondering how much of her story is real and how much spun from an inventive writer’s brain. Once divorced from her husband, she continued her education and became a teacher. From an adult perspective, she analyzes her subsequent sexual behavior, detailing various unrewarding love affairs. She also covers a reunion with her stifled mother, eventual marriage to an appreciative man, and her long-delayed efforts to locate her son.

Labored, self-indulgent womb-gazing.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2004
ISBN: 0-8203-2681-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2004