A woman is contacted by her birth mother and struggles to accept truths about her past. Writer A.M. Homes is thirty-one years old when she is contacted by her birth mother, Ellen Ballman. A.M. grew up knowing she was adopted and had a happy, secure childhood, save for on and off feelings of not belonging, due to being adopted.
A.M. begins to communicate with Ellen by letters and telephone, but feels too overwhelmed to meet her. She learns the circumstances of her birth. Ellen was a teenager when she began to have an affair with her boos, Norman Hecht, A.M.'s biological father. Ellen wanted Norman to leave his wife and young children, and marry her. She tells A.M. that Norman at first promised to do so, and moved into an apartment with her, then went back to his wife. Young and scared, she decided to give the baby up for adoption. She never married or had any other children.
Ellen begs to meet A.M. but her desperation repulses A.M. A.M. avoids telling Ellen much about her personal life, but Ellen begins to stalk her and eventually shows up uninvited to a reading A.M. is giving in a bookstore. Meanwhile, A.M. has begun to talk to her biological father. He strikes A.M. as friendly but rather defensive and narcissistic. The two meet regularly for lunch in hotel lobbies. Norman makes excuses when A.M asks to meet his other adult children, her half-siblings. Norman suggests they both take a D.N.A. test to be sure, and A.M. agrees. The results prove the two are indeed father and daughter. Norman tells A.M. more about their family history and that she qualifies for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.
A.M. finally agrees to meet Ellen at The Plaza hotel in New York City. Ellen arrives in a ratty white fur coat and is eager it seems to form an instant close relationship, but A.M. cuts the meeting short. A.M. reflects on how lucky she was to have been raised by stable, loving, rational parents, rather than the self-absorbed, immature biological parents she is getting to know. Issues of identity and history preoccupy her. She begins to spend all her time in obscure libraries researching her ancestors.
A.M. meets Norman and his wife for lunch and the wife openly disapproves of her. Norman begins to withdraw. Ellen sends inappropriately affectionate letters and gifts to A.M. and begs to see her again but A.M. declines. Ellen calls to say she is ill and A.M. senses that Ellen hopes she will take care of her. Meanwhile Norman has stopped taking A.M.'s calls. Her newfound interest in history has triggered an interest in joining the D.A.R. as he suggested but when she applies, she is asked for proof of ancestry and Norman refuses to supply it.
A.M. receives a call that Ellen has died from kidney disease. She learns that Ellen could have been saved by a transplant and begins to believe that Ellen tried to compel Norman to ask A.M. to volunteer as a donor. A.M. goes to Ellen's apartment and takes only boxes of paperwork. She continues her research using this paperwork and becomes obsessed.
A.M.'s obsession reaches a fever pitch and she finds herself driving around her biological father's neighborhood at night, trying to understand his life.
Eventually she gets a grip and comes to terms with the role all four of her parents played in her childhood and in how her character was formed.
Best part of story, including ending:
The author build so much suspense from the first page that I couldn't put th ebook down. It reads as intensely as a murder mystery.
Best scene in story:
I really liked the scene in which A.M.'s adoptive mother takes her for a picnic in the park and packs her childhood favorites, a bologna sandwich and soda. It is such a sweet and endearing gesture, showing that this is her real mother, who still wants to take care of her, and it seems like exactly what A.M. needs at the time.
Opinion about the main character:
I love how honest A.M. Homes is about thoughts and emotions that others might have glossed over. For example, she writes that getting to know her biological father by meeting him in hotels triggers moments of sexual fantasy about him that she recognizes as confused emotions.