One Big Happy Family
18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love
Starred review in KIRKUS:
"A moving, wildly diverse collection showing how radically different familial configurations can work."
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Prompted by her experiences growing up in a family "fragmented and haunted by unfulfilled longings," Walker (Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence, 2007, etc.) looks beyond her well-publicized estrangement from her mother, novelist Alice Walker, to the lives of other writers "searching for authenticity through experimentation" in their domestic situations. The essays she assembles smash class, race and gender stereotypes to collectively demonstrate the fluidity of the contemporary family unit.
Resisting the traditional boundaries of coupledom, Jenny Block, on the one hand, celebrates the openness of what she calls a "polyamorous marriage" with her husband and her girlfriend. On the other hand, Judith Levine and her boyfriend, together for 17 years, never married for a number of practical and philosophic reasons. Writes Levine: "A marriage may or may not be a union of love. It is always a union of property...I'd like the state to get out of the sexual-licensing business altogether, actually, for couples gay, straight, bi, or none of the above." Essays by Dan Savage and Dawn Friedman lay bare the highs and lows of open adoption. Savage details the difficulty he and his partner have in deciding what to say to their adoptive son when his homeless, substance-abusing biological mother drops out of touch for more than a year: "Which two-by-four to hit him with? That his mother was in all likelihood dead? Or that she was out there somewhere but didn't care enough to come by or call?" Friedman, while admitting to occasional twinges of jealousy and guilt evoked by having her daughter's birth mother integrated into their lives, trumpets openness for her daughter's sake: "She will never have to wonder why her first mother chose adoption; she can ask her." Rebecca Barry closes the anthology with a frank, humorous exploration of how she and her sister ended up in couples therapy.
"Eye-opening and sometimes shocking, as it brilliantly explodes traditional notions about the nuclear family."
These plainspoken, cage-rattling essays, collected by Walker (What Makes a Man), address how dramatically the traditional nuclear family has changed.
Jenny Block’s “And Then We Were Poly” sets the decidedly unconventional tone by insisting that her and her husband’s embrace of other sexual partners allows them a more, joyful, fulfilling commitment to each other. A gay couple adopts the child of a self-destructive street girl in Dan Savage’s “DJ’s Homeless Mommy,” then tries to keep the mother in touch with her son. In “Sharing Madison.” Dawn Friedman, another parent of an adoptee, writes of her agonizing process of overcoming the guilt she feels in having taken baby Madison away from her teenage mother. Antonio Caya, in “Daddy Donoring,” recounts his rational decision to sire his friend’s child, firmly remaining the donor, not a daddy, so as not to “muddle the issue.” Children of mixed race force a much-needed altering of people’s perceptions, as ZZ Packer explores “The Look,” while Susan McKinney de Ortega’s choice to marry a much younger Mexican man and make a home in Mexico challenges the American notion of middle-class values. These fresh, diverse views represent an authentic, valuable new reality. (Feb.)
It is always the right time to support families. All of them.