I’m always interested in “outsider” themes in fiction. Two authors I’ve met on Facebook weave the theme of adoption into their new novels, and since I’m adopted, this is a topic always of interest to me. I believe it’s important for those of us in the adoption world to support and encourage adoption topics in fiction and let the novelists’ character cast a new light on this.
Randy Susan Meyers, The Comfort of Lies (Feb 2013 Atria) and Tish Cohen, The Search Angel (July 2013 HarperCollins Publishers Ltd) graciously agreed to interviews. I wanted to learn from each about their choices and process of integrating adoption into their characters lives, and I hope readers hold the same interest.
First up, Randy Susan Meyers. Next week, followed soon by Tish Cohen. Then to follow the week after, I asked JaeRan Kim, a child welfare specialist, researcher, and transracial Korean adoptee, to weigh in about adoption themes in fiction.
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Randy Susan Meyers is the author of The Comfort of Lies (Feb 2013)
and The Murderer’s Daughters (January 2010) Meyers’ novels are informed by her work with families impacted by emotional and family violence. The Massachusetts Book Awards chose her fiction as “Must Read Book” and one of the “2011 Ten Best Works of Fiction.”
Q: At what point in your novel process did you know you’d want one of your themes and character(s) touched by adoption? Why adoption? Why this as a life force in your novel and character(s)?
A: Right from the beginning adoption was a theme in my book. The Comfort of Lies begins with Tia, a woman who fell into obsessive love with a man she could never have. Married, and the father of two boys, Nathan was unavailable. When she became pregnant, he disappeared, and she gave up her baby for adoption. Now, five years later she’s trying to connect with her lost daughter and Nathan.
I wanted to write the book from the point of view of everyone involved—as I find it fascinating how everyone’s reality is completely true to them. So the story evolved to include the wife of the married man, Juliette, who five years earlier considered her life ideal: she had a loving family, a solid marriage, and a thriving business. Then she discovered her husband’s affair. He’d promised he’d never stray again and she trusted him. But that was before she knew about the child.
Obsessed with finding out about the child, Juliette seeks the adoptive mother, and that is the third point of view in the book (the biological father became the fourth) Caroline, a dedicated pathologist, reluctantly adopted a baby to please her husband. She prayed her misgivings would disappear; instead, she’s questioning whether she’s cut out for the role of wife and mother.
Once I began living inside Caroline’s head, I became completely involved with questions of adoption, secrets and lies. People often ask where stories come from, and I’ve thought hard about what to say about writing The Comfort of Lies— a novel exploring premises like:
Falling hard for a man who isn’t yours.
Learning your husband has cheated.
Failing at work.
Thinking you’re failing at motherhood.
Giving up a child for adoption.
Struggling with being an adoptive mother.
I didn’t give up a baby for adoption nor adopt a child, but with every pregnancy scare, I wondered about choices I might make. Adoption? Failing at work? Infidelity? I struggled in ways that allowed The Comfort of Lies to come frighteningly alive in my mind. I haven’t suffered through all my characters’ crises but you don’t have to be buried alive to write about an avalanche–but it helps to have been stuck in an elevator.
All parenthood is complicated and begs honest examination. I had my first child at twenty-one. I barely remember being an adult when I wasn’t a parent. As I began reading memoir after memoir of about adoption—from every point of view—I began to feel how much of a complicating overlay it brings on an already layered life change. The Comfort of Lies asks if having children defines us, if that’s different for adoptive parents, and what does it mean for mothers and fathers whose give up their sons and daughters for adoption.
Caroline hates the routines of motherhood—does this make her an awful woman? Does the fact that she’s an adoptive mother make that feeling more muddled? Does anyone enjoy all moments of parenthood? Tia, who gave up her child, wonders if she can ever claim herself as a mother. Nathan learns about his child when she’s already five years old—can one conjure up instant love? Juliette feels a connection to the child, despite not having any claim or biological connection to her.
All these characters wrestle with questions of adoption. Everyone in The Comfort of Lies is forced to weigh the rights of a five-year-old girl versus their own desires. Collisions between the needs of children and the wishes of parents are sadly common. On whose side will the decision-making arrow fall? Should parents hold secrets from their children? If they do, is this ultimately for the comfort of the adult or the child—what price do we pay for hiding truth from our sons and daughters?
Q: How does anything in your personal or professional life influence the use of adoption in your novel?
A: I worked for many years with children, as a director of a community center in Boston, and as a director of a summer camp and after school program. The children who touched me were from every spectrum of every definition of ‘family.’ From this, and from having family who was adopted, the topic was of great interest to me.
As an adult I found out (from my cousin) how much damage could be done by secretive attitudes towards adoption and biological parents and grandparents. I found the ways in which she was hurt to be heartbreaking. I had a cluster of her pain in my soul when I wrote about how all the characters were unwittingly hurting the child.
Q: If you’re not touched by adoption in your immediate family, or even if you are, how much, if any, did you feel the need to research adoption?
Plenty! I read (as mentioned above) innumerable memoirs. (Maybe 20-30?) I find memoirs a fantastic source of immediacy and emotion when I am researching—and find that I can reach a broader spectrum than I could simply by speaking to a few individuals. I also spent days and days on websites, and contacted folks who had sites that touched me. In addition, I read straight nonfiction research books.
Q: What question(s) do you wish I’d asked?
A: “Was there a moment in the book where a character’s (and your) thoughts about open adoption solidified?”
As I wrote the book, I became, as I tend to do, each of my characters. Whatever point of view I wrote from—I inhabited that person. Caroline, the adoptive mother, loves her daughter and husband, but is increasingly sure she is failing at the role of wife and mother. During the course of the book she moves from a frozen acceptance of what she views as not deserving to feel the same ambivalence all mother’s feel (positive she should show only gratitude) to a gradual understanding that adoptive parents have a nuanced range of emotions. She finally allow herself to examine all sides of open adoption —and formulate a philosophy, where formerly she wouldn’t even allow herself to think about the topic.