Flawed but haunting, a potent reminder that adoption is founded on loss.



An exploration of adoption through personal essays, art, and photos.

The title refers to the home for unwed mothers, one of thousands across the country, where, in 1966, Galbraith’s birth mother, Ursula, was sequestered for tedious months waiting to give birth and then surrender her child for adoption. Though girls were expected to put the experience behind them, few ever could. In emotional, sometimes blistering essays, Galbraith portrays her loving adoptive parents, sexuality, and role as wife and mother. The author references her thorny relationship with Ursula throughout, from their first reunion in 1996 to subsequent fraught encounters. Galbraith, who wanted more than Ursula was ready or able to give, shares deeply personal details about both, retelling Ursula’s life story as autobiography. This section, she notes, “is stitched together from letters and journals given to me by my birth mother. It involves both our voices which blend and embellish each other.” Visual elements include photos of molded-plastic dolls Galbraith placed in dollhouse dioramas to mimic her own childhood photos. The affectless dolls and lively baby Megan—in similar dress and pose—are unsettlingly juxtaposed against Galbraith’s words. Some intimate disclosures edge into narcissism, and the author’s judgments of friends and family can be harsh. However, the essays that situate her experience as an adoptee and mother within a historical framework are resonant and consistently compelling. She critiques Cornell University’s Domestic Economics program, inaugurated in 1919, which “borrowed” infants from orphanages to serve as practice babies for female students. (Paired with program baby photos, Galbraith’s doll scenes are eerily apt.) While Gabrielle Glaser’s American Baby (2021) offers broader insights into and historical context for the closed-adoption era, Galbraith’s passionate narrative effectively shows the struggle of an adopted child to comprehend an often long-hidden history. Ursula wouldn’t allow her photos to appear in the book, one part of a pattern of denial that the author highlights at various points in the book.

Flawed but haunting, a potent reminder that adoption is founded on loss.

Pub Date: May 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8142-5791-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mad Creek/Ohio State Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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