Dance of the Narcissists: A.M. Homes on Her New Memoir

Interview with A.M. Homes, who discusses her memoir The Mistress’s Daughter.

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Novelist A.M. Homes was raised by adoptive parents in Washington, D.C., and first met her biological parents when she was 31. For Homes, the reality of these once longed-for relatives was jarring. Her biological mother, a lonely and unbalanced woman, showed up unannounced at Homes’s readings, and her father, who insisted she take a DNA test, eventually cut off contact. In her memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter (Viking), Homes, now 45 and the mother of a preschool-age girl, brings her writer’s eye for the painfully absurd to her own compelling story.Q. I loved that surreal moment in the book when you recognized your own ass on your biological father — while he happened to be signing a check for the DNA test he required that you take.A. It was funny and awful. It’s not a good ass, okay? If it had been a really cute, perfect ass, that would be one thing, but it was seeing this feature that has plagued me all my life on another person!Q. When you decided to become a mother, you opted for a biological child. Your adoptive mother said, "What’s the matter, isn’t adoption good enough for you?"A. I wanted to have biological relatives; that was important to me. There are ways in which my daughter definitely reminds me of myself. She also reminds me a lot of my adoptive grandmother, which is inexplicable. That’s kind of magic. In fact, it was the death of my grandmother that made me decide to have a child. I couldn’t bear the thought of my family shrinking without also expanding.Q. You write about not feeling entitled to information about yourself. You say that adoptees’ lives are about supporting the secrets and desires of others.A. All of my biological relatives know a lot more about their lives and their background than I ever will, and every time any information was given to me, it was as if a secret was being passed along. When someone grows up with information about their biological family history, it’s just part of their story. But this is really powerful information to someone who doesn’t have it.Q. When you were a young child, you had an intense longing for your birth mother. But the more you got to know her, the more relieved you were that she gave you up.A. She was not very developed as a person. She was not equipped to parent, to do the thing that parents do every day, which is put the needs of their child ahead of their own. The thing that’s interesting about both of my biological parents is that their behavior at the time of my birth was narcissistic. My biological father’s choice, as a married man, to be involved with a teenager, and his way of handling her once she was pregnant, was narcissistic. And 30 years later, he behaved in the same way, both toward her and toward me. In relation to me, neither of my parents changed or grew up. It was great that I was given away.Q. Your mother told you that if she’d known where you were, she would have come and taken you away.A. When she told me that, it was terrifying. She had no sense of what that would mean to me. She imagined that kidnapping me would be a desirable thing for me.Q. You end your book with an interrogation of your father. Did posing your questions to him in written form reduce any of the rage you felt?A. It’s not so much rage I feel. It’s disappointing to have a lot of unanswered questions, and I don’t think it’s going to change at this point.Q. What are you working on now?A. Some short stories and two television shows. And a novel that I hope will be a cross between Charlotte’s Web and Waiting for Godot.Q. The word controversial has dogged you throughout your career, particularly since your 1996 novel, The End of Alice, about the correspondence between a convicted pedophile and a teenage girl. Do you think you deserve it?A. No. Honestly? No. I think that the upside of controversial is that you make people work and you make people think.Q. Are you mellowing with age?A. I hope not.Originally published in MORE magazine, April 2007.

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