In the latest New Yorker: A.M. Homes, Edward P. Jones, Robert Lowell

So the latest New Yorker, a double “fiction” issue, arrived in my mailbox yesterday. In addition to the Ian McEwan short story I mentioned on Monday, the current issue includes fiction offerings from Edward P. Jones and Hanna Krall.

I’ve yet to read any of the stories because A.M. Homes’ essay, “The Mistress’ Daughter,” caught my eye before I got that far. Homes writes about coming into contact with her birth parents after thirty years of fantasizing about them.

Just as her preconceptions about her mother, Helene, are mostly wrong, Homes fails to meet the woman’s expectations. She does not wear cashmere sweaters. She evinces no eagerness to meet Helene, at least not right away. She fails to send cards at Valentine’s Day.

After the initial contact, Homes calls Helene frequently but refuses to pass along her phone number. One day she comes home to find:

a message on my machine, the voice, raspy, coarse: “Your cover is blown. I know who you are and I know where you live. I’m reading your books.”

I dial her immediately. “Helene, what are you doing?”

“I found out who you are, A.M. Homes. I’m reading your books.”

It is the only time in my life that I regret being a writer. She has something of mine, and she thinks she has me.

“How did you get my number?”

“I’m very clever. I called all the bookstores in Washington and asked them, ‘Who is a writer from Washington whose first name is Amy?’ At first I thought you were someone else, some other Amy, who wrote a book about God, and then one of the stores helped me and gave me your number.”

She stalks me. Every time the phone rings, every time I call in for messages, I brace myself.

It’s a great essay — a bit warmer than much of Homes’ fiction, but still fairly detached — that becomes even more complex and disturbing when the author’s father enters the picture.

The current New Yorker also includes some fascinating excerpts from Robert Lowell’s letters to Elizabeth Bishop. The torch Lowell carried for Bishop is a subject of particular interest to me.


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