Guest Review: Somebody Else’s Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage

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Following is a review of Somebody Else’s Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage, reviewed by Florinda of the fabulous blog, 3R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness. Thanks, Florinda, for sharing your thoughts on this book with our readers!

 TLC Book Tour Book Talk: “Somebody Else’s Daughter,” by Elizabeth Brundage

 Somebody Else’s Daughter

Elizabeth Brundage

Viking, 2008 (Hardcover) (ISBN 0670019003 / 9780670019007)

Fiction, 352 pages

 

First Sentence: We left San Francisco that morning even though your mother was sick. (Read an excerpt from the book’s prologue.) 

Book Description (summary): In the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts a group of families is connected through the prestigious Pioneer prep school. Into this community enters Nate Gallagher, a teacher and struggling writer haunted by the daughter he gave up for adoption years ago. The girl, Willa—now a teenager and one of Nate’s students—lives with her adoptive parents, Joe and Candace, who have nurtured her with their affection and prosperity. When Willa wins a community service internship and begins working at a local women’s shelter, her friendship with Petra, a troubled young prostitute, raises questions about her own biological past. Despite her parents’ love and care, Willa can’t shake her feelings of confusion and abandonment, and Joe and Candace are too preoccupied with their crumbling marriage to realize her unhappiness. 

Somebody Else’s Daughter is filled with doppelgangers. Pairs of characters mirror each other forcing each one to confront the darker side of his or her psyche and question their own identity. Nate and Joe (Willa’s biological and adoptive fathers) both fall in love with Claire, a feminist artist who recently returned to the area. Pioneer’s headmaster Jack Heath and Joe are both fathers of teenage girls, each with his own secrets to keep. Willa and Petra (Pearl) are both orphaned girls, yet one has been given a caring home and the other turns to prostitution. 

The characters become more entwined as first scandal and then tragedy strikes. As the story draws to its gripping conclusion, each character must make a decision that defines who they are. Somebody Else’s Daughter is a suspenseful tale and a tightly woven psychological drama that examines, as Joe Golding observes, how “in a matter of seconds, based on the fickle inclinations of fate, your life could change forever.” 

Comments:  I wish I hadn’t been reading this book in the midst of my recent packing-and-moving adventure; I would have liked to be able to read it in a few sessions rather than in small chunks over several weeks. Somebody Else’s Daughter is an engrossing book, but there are quite a few characters and subplots, and having to take so many breaks while reading it threw off my momentum and sometimes made it difficult to re-orient myself to the story. I think if you have the time, this would be a pretty fast read. 

Elizabeth Brundage’s second novel covers a relatively short chronology – less than a year – but a lot of psychological and relationship territory in this story of the community around a small prep school in the Berkshires. She introduces a lot of characters, and it takes a while to see how their stories will intersect, but have faith that eventually they will. 

At first glance, the “somebody else’s daughter” of the title seems to be Willa Golding, who came to her parents, Joe and Candace, via a private adoption as a baby. Her birth parents were drug addicts, and her natural mother died of AIDS on the day of the adoption. Willa’s biological father, Nate Gallagher, has cleaned up and become a writer and teacher; when a position at the Pioneer School, which she attends, opens up, he takes it as an opportunity to get to know the girl without revealing their relationship. 

However, “somebody else’s daughter” could be Candace, Willa’s adoptive mother, who was raised in foster homes herself. It could be Maggie Heath, who has always felt out of place with her husband Jack’s family, and who seems to share an eating disorder with her own daughter Ada. It could be Claire Squire, feminist artist and single mom, recently returned from Los Angeles and living in her father’s old house after his death. It could be Petra – also called Pearl (although I think I missed the point in the book where her name changed) – a young, drug-addicted prostitute who centralizes several of the novel’s story arcs. I like the fact that the title could refer to any or all of the characters. 

I think Brundage balances character and plot development pretty well overall in this novel, and nearly every element she introduces does end up connecting to the larger story at some point. As a reader, I usually do have confidence that authors will tie things together eventually, and I appreciate having that rewarded. I thought that nearly all of the major characters had complexity and depth, and given the number of characters and storylines that Brundage is juggling here, that appeals to me. 

There were some elements of the writing that distracted me from the story at times – minor things that seem like they could have been fixed with more (careful? thoughtful? anal-retentive?) editing – but they weren’t a serious impediment to my reading, since there was plenty of story to keep me interested. Brundage does use the “f-word” quite a bit, but in a character-appropriate manner. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that she has included some disturbing scenes that may seem gratuitous at first, but really are relevant to the story, including several graphic descriptions of pornography and a scene at a dogfight (which I found more unsettling than the porn). 

Book Club Discussion Guide questions for Somebody Else’s Daughter 

This was my first time reading any of Elizabeth Brundage’s fiction, but I think I will be checking out her first novel, The Doctor’s Wife. She has a way with character and story, and I thank TLC Book Tours for introducing me to her! 

Rating: 3.75/5

 

** Buy Somebody Else’s Daughter online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, IndieBound.org, or BooksAMillion.com 

 

** Other stops on the TLC Book Tour for Somebody Else’s Daugher:

 

Monday, November 3rd: It’s All Fun & Games

Wednesday, November 5th: S. Krishna’s Books

Friday, November 7th: Mabel’s House

Wednesday, November 12th: Devourer of Books

Thursday, November 13th: All Thumbs Reviews

Friday, November 14th: Welcome to My Brain

Monday, November 17th: 1 More Chapter

Wednesday, November 19th: My New Reality

Friday, November 21st: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books

Tuesday, November 25th: The Friendly Book Nook

Tuesday, December 2nd: Bookroom Reviews

Thursday, December 4th: Pieces of Me

Guest Review: Without a Map by Meredith Hall

Meredith Hall’s “Without a Map” is a memoir about the life of a woman who, at 16, got pregnant and was shunned by her parents, friends and community.  She gives the baby up for adoption, and cannot return to her former life.  As a result, the course of her life and her inner struggles take on a sad and unique journey. 

While Hall tells a sad, interesting story, I found myself struggling to get through the book.  Undoubtedly, she was treated abysmally by her parents and friends when she became pregnant at 16 years old.  This family and community “shunning,” along with giving up her baby for adoption, stays with her through the course of her life.  Very sad, poignant stuff.  But, Hall reminds us, practically every paragraph, over and over, that she is in pain, sad, alone, detached, etc.  Hall needs to trust her readers more, that once she explains her pain, we “get it,” and that as she continues the course of her life, her actions tell us that she is dealing with something internal that drives her on her strange path.  We don’t need to be told over and over and over again. 

There are very interesting, meaty parts of the story.  She buys a fishing boat with a boyfriend and fishes through a storm, she walks through Europe to the Middle East with no money, and she cares for her mother through a terrible terminal disease.  But these moments are dragged down by the over emphasis of her feelings.  Meredith also chooses to ignore chronology again and again, and also leaves huge holes in her story – just when we are riveted by her story, she jumps to a whole new part of her life.  For instance, one chapter ends with her in the Middle East, broke, practically naked, when she decides to go home.  The next chapter starts and she has two children.  How did she get home?  How did she meet and fall in love with the father?  What changes in this empty person’s life to open up to another human and decide to create a new life?  It is a mystery. It is like she ignores her own story to tell us again and again how she feels.

While there is some good stuff here, and Hall is a talented writer, I found this to be a tedious attempt.  I needed more meat, less gravy.

Visit Meredith Hall’s website HERE

Blogger Bio:  Elaine Legere is stay-at-home mommy and part-time marketing consultant, after years of working for Disney, Palm (aka Palm Pilot), Los Angeles Times, and Details Magazine.  She received her BA at UCLA in English Literature and an MBA from University of Colorado. She is an avid reader, loves movies, and all things outdoors.

Note from Lisa/Books on the Brain:  Elaine is a friend from my real-life book club. Thanks, Elaine, for an insightful review!