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My book, The Mothers, tracks close to my own life. My protagonist is my age and lives where I live, and she is going through the same horrible adoption process I went through for several years. It was a difficult time, but the experience brought up so many issues — of race and class and motherhood and identity — that interested me as a novelist. I wanted to make this material interesting to myself and to a reader so that what I was going through could be put toward something positive, to my work.
I wanted to write this differently than I have written my other books. Those books—Golden Country and Something Red—were big novels about Jewish families. They took place in the past and so were heavily researched. They were written in third person and spanned decades and dealt largely with how we are all haunted and invigorated by the near and far past. They were about how we as individuals, as families, and indeed as Jews, have informed history and the way history has informed us. I considered using this technique — of a broad social sweep — to take on the topic of adoption. I thought deeply about writing it historically, taking on how adoption began in this country and the way it has been transformed and affected so prominently by the political history of our country. And yet for this particular book that felt very false and it felt as if I were avoiding something emotionally important. That emotional resonance was just as important to me in this book as the social history and the ramifications of the past.
What felt real and important was finding this particular voice – which, I would like to add, is not my voice. Jesse, my protagonist, is a pretty desperate woman. She’s utterly imperfect. Even though I arrived at her voice fairly easily, it took me a while to find her story and not merely her emotional state. In the end, what was most interesting to me in writing this book was the immediacy of wanting to have a child, not being able to get a child, and the inevitable consequences of that. This was lived experience instead of researched experience. It is a story about wanting. That is just as dangerous a topic to take on as any I know.