Susan Scarf Merrell offers some interesting insights into the case of the little boy returned to Russia last week when his American mother decided that she couldn’t parent him any longer. Merrell is the author of a book about a troubled adoption:
When I set out to write my 2001 novel, A Member of the Family, I wanted to find an answer to one simple question: What kind of mother could give back a child she had sworn to love? In researching the novel, I met many families struggling to do better than survive, families that wanted to compensate for the early life tragedies that had beset the children they now called their own. Whether the child’s scars were psychological or physical, a question of malnutrition or attachment disorder or serious mental illness, these families were committed, no matter the cost of endurance to their other members.Through these conversations, I did eventually construct a portrait of a fictional family that adopted a child, did their best to raise him, but ultimately sank under the pressure and released him into the foster care system. I let my characters live out their tale. Like any novelist, I had done my homework and built my fictional case.
Because I was publishing a piece of fiction, I was unprepared for what followed. After the book was released, I was shocked to open my local paper to find a letter from a neighbor, an adoptive parent, stating that she would never read a book like mine and hoped nobody else would either. I was accused of a variety of odd things in the months following publication, of constructing a damning portrait of a fellow villager—someone I had never heard of, or met—and of fictionalizing and justifying my own behavior with my own children. Continue Reading »