Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Unhappy Families

Anna Karenina famously begins, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

I was reading Julie Myerson's review of Andrew Solomon's Far from the Tree in last Sunday's Times (that book seems inescapable at the moment), and Myerson wrote that Solomon came to an "'anti-Tolstoyan' conclusion that 'the unhappy families who reject their variant children have much in common, while the happy ones who strive to accept them are happy in a multitude of ways.'"

This is fascinating; what makes rejection inevitable and the rejecting families unhappy, while the happy families can accept difference? I have been thinking about my long history of being a variant. I believe that variants do strike fear into the hearts of those who try hard to fit in and not be different from those around them. Those whose goal in life it is not to stick out, not one little bit. Our (variants') being around, and talking about who we are, can be an enormous threat to the balance that some work so hard to achieve and pass off as effortless. But variants aren't figments of people's imaginations; we are real. And running away from us doesn't make us go away, except in a physical sense. As do those who have to live with/around/near us: this is a 700+ page book that talks about the real (emotional/physical/financial) difficulties of living with those with horizontal identity. I get it. We're not easy, either. Perhaps in some cases, relationships are broken and never mended, or are broken and then mended (as in the case of Tiffanie DiDonato I wrote about a few days ago).

In her review in the Times, Myerson indicates that Solomon writes perceptively about the challenges of figuring out who we are: "[Solomon] knows about the humiliations involved in the search for (in his case, sexual) identity. He knows what it is to feel like a freak." And as a fellow freak, apparently he writes without judgment. I thank him for that. It sounds like he is wonderfully empathetic and intelligent and probing, having compiled 40,000 transcript pages from interviews with many families and distilled his findings into this book.

A reviewer on said that she got caught up by some great sentences on page 2 of Far from the Tree, which certainly resonate with me, both as an adoptee and as a parent:

"Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity." 

"From the beginning, we tempt them into imitation of us and long for what may be life's most profound compliment: their choosing to live according to our own system of values. Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us."

I am incredibly excited to read this book (my copy on order is taking TOO long), and I cannot believe (well, yes I can) that adoption wasn't included as an example of horizontal identity. Perhaps it's an invisible example?

1 comment:

S said...

I too wondered why adoption was not included as an example. I would like to read it as we'll. looking forward to hearing your review.