Saturday, September 1, 2012

Jeanette Winterson: Author and Adopted Woman

by Julie

During a recent trip to the library, I was able to pick up a copy of Jeanette Winterson's memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. Winterson is an adopted woman--like all of us here at Lost Daughters--and her memoir focuses on her childhood with Pentecostal adoptive parents. More specifically, she focuses on the complicated persona of her adoptive mother.

I was immediately taken in by Winterson's writing style. She offers glimpses into her past with prose that is poignant with a bit of wry, British humor. Those glimpses come across as snapshots. It is as though you are flipping through a photo album or scrapbook. You turn the page and another image pops up in the form of several new paragraphs.

It didn't take long to arrive at an adoption-related snapshot. She offers up the following thoughts on being adopted right there on page five:

Adopted children are self-invented because we have to be; there is an absence, a void, a question mark at the very beginning of our lives. A crucial part of our story is gone, and violently, like a bomb in the womb. 

The baby explodes into an unknown world that is only knowable through some kind of story--of course that is how we all live, it's the narrative of our lives, but adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It's like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It's like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you--and it can't, and it shouldn't, because something is missing. 

As an adopted woman reading the work of another adopted woman, I immediately reacted to Winterson's words. I wanted to extended my hand and offer her an adoptee fist bump. Non-adoptees might read this book and quickly move their eyes across these words because the thoughts presented are not something to which they can relate. But me? As a fellow adopted woman, I hung on every single one.

In fact, her thoughts made me want to run over to the nearest book club taking on her memoir, hold the book up open to page five, and shout "See? See? This is what it is like! This is how adopted people feel!" Because anything that gives any sort of legitimacy (ha, ha, ha) to our experience as adopted women should be required reading for everyone. Because our thoughts are so often unheard or disregarded. Our experiences are not something that general society really wants to dive into.

Winterson manages to give anyone reading her novel a snapshot of life as an adopted woman. And as an adopted woman myself, this brings me happiness and makes me feel just a bit more normal.