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Novelist Homes's searing 2004 New Yorker essay about meeting her biological parents 31 years after they gave her up for adoption forms the first half of this much-anticipated memoir, but the rest of the book doesn't match its visceral power. The first part, distilled by more than a decade's reflection and written with haunting precision, recounts Homes's unfulfilling reunions with both parents in 1993 after her birth mother, Ellen Ballman, contacted her. Homes (This Book Will Change Your Life,) learns that Ballman became pregnant at age 22, after being seduced by Norman Hecht, the married owner of the shop where Ballman worked. But Ballman's emotional neediness and the more upwardly mobile Hecht's unwillingness to fully acknowledge Homes as a family member shakes Homes's deepest sense of self. The rest of the memoir is a more undigested account of how Ballman's death pushed Homes to research her genealogy. Hecht's refusal to help Homes apply to the Daughters of the American Revolution based on their shared lineage elicits her "nuclear-hot" rage, which devolves into a list of accusing questions she would ask him about his life choices in a mock L.A. Law episode. The final chapter is a loving but tacked-on tribute to Homes's adoptive grandmother that may leave readers wishing the author had given herself more time to fully integrate her adoptive and biological selves. (Apr.)
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*Starred Review* Homes is a Tilt-a-whirl novelist who discloses ordinary existence's hidden bizarreness, most recently in This Book Will Save Your Life (2006). She now presents a can't-put-it-down memoir as remarkable for its crystalline prose, flinty wit, and agile candor as for its arresting revelations. Readers will recognize the true-life source of Homes' novel In a Country of Mothers (1993) as she recounts the fraught circumstances of her irregular adoption: baby Homes was handed over on the street like contraband. Homes knows nothing about her birth parents until she turns 31, and learns that her mother was only 17 when she and her married-with-children boss began an affair that abruptly ended when both his mistress and his wife became pregnant. Homes navigates distressing, often surreal interactions with the demanding strangers who provided her DNA. Then, after her mother's unnerving death, she embarks on an extensive genealogical quest to trace both biological and adopted bloodlines. Homes masterfully distills angst and discovery into a riveting tale of nature and nurture that encompasses America's great patchwork of immigrants and secrets; a double-helix legacy entwining Christian slaveholders with Jewish refugees; and, as she brings her daughter into the world, the evolution of women's lives. Donna Seaman
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