Moms de Plume

By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 16, 2007

NEW YORK

A.M. Homes is one of the last writers you'd expect to come out with a memoir. She doesn't even like to reveal herself in fiction.

Like all novelists, Homes, 45, has had to draw a personal boundary line between the imagined and the real. The Chevy Chase native may have just published a nonfiction book, "The Mistress's Daughter," but she has long favored the invented over the adapted.

She takes "absolute pleasure in inventing things," she says. "I don't by nature write autobiographically."

Are there reasons that Homes -- whose novels and stories have been both widely praised and frequently labeled "disturbing" -- chose to imagine the lives of a murderous pedophile, a suburban couple who torch their own house or a boy who conducts a violent, erotic relationship with his sister's Barbie?

Perhaps.

Are these characters in any direct way autobiographical?

They are not.

There has been, however, one notable exception. Homes's 1993 novel, "In a Country of Mothers," is an intense exploration of the psychology of adoption. Adopted herself as an infant, Homes drew themes and details straight from her own experience. They ranged from the wording of the coded message her adopted character's soon-to-be parents receive when she is born ("Your package is here and it's wrapped in pink ribbons") to that same character's ambivalent answer, decades later, to the question, "Would you want to know who your mother was?"

"I'd take the information," she replies, "but I don't know what I'd do with it. It might mess me up."

In December 1992 -- with "In a Country of Mothers" written, edited and moving toward publication -- life veered crazily toward art. Homes's birth mother contacted the lawyer who'd arranged the adoption 31 years before. "She'd be willing to hear from you" was the message.

Homes took the information.


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