The Mistress’s Daughter

Posted by Lizzie on 05/30/07

mistressdaughter.jpgMost New Yorker readers from 2004 will be unable to not recall A.M. Homes’ essay “The Mistress’s Daughter,” a painful portrait of the relationship the author forges with her birth parents when she finally meets them in her early 30’s. The essay has now grown into an autobiography of the same name, published in April 2007, and The Mistress’s Daughter is not only the story of Homes’ meeting her birth parents, but of her family at large–both the one who raises her and the one she makes.

The redesign of The New Yorker’s website kicked the original essay off the site, but Viking has graciously consented to allow us to reprint a portion of the work here–Yes! the notorious ‘ass’ section–and has given us one copy for a giveaway. First person to email us at “theoldhag AT theoldhag DOTT com” with “Homes” in the subject line wins–good luck. J. Khaler is the winner.

“You have to sign the tubes.”

They are warm in my palm, filled with the chemical sum of who and what I am. I sign quickly, hoping not to faint. I am holding myself in my hands.

Norman is next. He takes off his jacket, revealing short shirt sleeves, sad-old-guy style. His arms are plump, pale, almost fluffy. There is something so white about him, so soft, so exposed that it is perverse. He lays out his arm. The technician ties it off, swabs it, and I look away unable to watch this strange genetic striptease.

I am sickened by it all. I wait in the hall. I do not watch him holding his blood, signing his tubes. He comes out of the room, puts his jacket back on, and we are out the door.

“I would have liked to take you for a nice lunch if you’d worn something better.” He says when we are in the hallway.

I am dressed perfectly well—in linen pants and a blouse. DNA testing is not a black-tie occasion. I am tempted to say, “That’s okay—I would have liked you to be my father if you weren’t such a jerk.” But I am so stunned that I because stupidly apologetic. I am not wearing what he wanted; I am not wearing a dress. I am not meeting his fantasy of his daughter.

We go to a less-than-mediocre restaurant down the block. People seem to know him there. He introduces me to the maître d’ as though that means something. We sit down. The tablecloths are green, the napkins polyester.

“You don’t wear jewelry,” Norman says.

I am single, I live in New York City, I am not wearing a dress. I know exactly what he is thinking.

I say nothing. Later, I’ll wish that I’d said something, I’ll wish that I’d told him the truth. I have no jewelry, but if you want to throw some diamonds I’d be glad to wear them. I come from a family that doesn’t do that sort of thing. I grew up boycotting grapes and iceberg lettuce because they weren’t picked by union workers.

What kind of father makes his child travel to another city to prove that she is his child and then criticizes her for not wearing the right clothes to the blood test, for not wearing jewelry she doesn’t own to the lunch she didn’t know she was having?

“How will you feel if the test comes back and I’m not your father?”


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Thank you very much for your comment. It was a very competitive comments season, and you should feel proud…

Posted by Lizzie on 03/26/07

…that you are such a bunch of heartless bastards. JEEZ. While a full 948 of you are still stewing over the fact that some coffee-starved academic threw you to the bottom of the pile 89 years ago, only 1.2 of you care when people stomp your heart and hand it back to you with an unbelievably insincere expression of regret. We’ve revised all our views. You know what is probably the BEST cure for heartbreak? Obsessing over how you only missed double 800’s* on the SATs because they thought rain:mist was more like wave:swell than hand:fingers. Listen, mist branches OUT FROM RAIN like FINGERS from a HAND. No it doesn’t? Fuck you.


The three lucky winners of a signed copy of Cures for Heartbreak**:

1. lw
Valiant display of despair, erudition.

2. Lisa
Possible variation: Ordering every catalog you can think of and having it sent to the party in question. We’re just saying.

3. Melanie
Congratulations, pen enthusiast, gatekeeper of the card catalog.


The two lucky winners of Acceptance:

1. H Habilis
Actually did laugh out loud.

2. Deepak
Okay, okay. But only because Melanie already won.

Honorable mention: Khalil, for being from Mauritius, which is apparently an achievement all on its own.

Winners, please contact me at theoldhag OF COURSE, AT theoldhag YES, DOT com to claim your prize. And anyone who’ll stew, write me anyway. I’d rather dig up something for you than have you spend the next 20 years in a state of outrage.


* The young people have a clever name for this. Does anyone know what it is? Seriously, it goes in one ear and out the other over here.

** Just FYI, thanks to ALL entrants for sparing us “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone.”

*** Not really.

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Teaser and still again Teaser: Margo Rabb

Posted by Lizzie on 03/20/07

hearbreak.jpgOne of the things we have always loved about other writers is that often when they write, we don’t have to. But that is only a small teeny reason we
are delighted to welcome our friend Margo Rabb and an excerpt from her new novel, Cures for Heartbreak, to Old Hag. But before we begin–things you should know about Margo:

1. Her stories have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope: All Story, Seventeen, Best New American Voices, New Stories from the South, New England Review, One Story, and elsewhere, and have been broadcast on National Public Radio (more here)

2. She is the author of a lovely series of mystery novels for young readers (more here)

3. She lives around the corner (more here)

4. She is, unlike some people, able to unselfishly share a freaking cupcake (more here)

Margo has generously offered three signed copies of her new book to three lucky winners. BUT THERE IS, OF COURSE, A CHALLENGE. Margo has posted her own cures for heartbreak on the Random House site. At Miss Rabb’s suggestion, we would like to now solicit yours. The Old Hag, for instance, leans towards sitting on the couch and whimpering, then getting momentarily distracted by the fact that her gmail’s adaptive filter is now filtering spam correctly. This probably shouldn’t fall under “cure”, but whatever.

Excerpt below, as well as Margo’s blog tour dates. Winners for Heartbreak and this will be posted Friday; feel free to strike anywhere in the meantime. Please enjoy!

World History

Four days after our mother’s funeral, my father decided that my sister Alex and I should go back to school. I was reading in bed when he knocked on my door, peered into my room and repeated, as he’d been doing at regular intervals, like a public service announcement, that we needed to go back to the way things were before. On Monday he’d re-open his shoe repair shop, I’d return to the ninth grade, and Alex to the twelfth. Things had to go back to normal.


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Teaser returns

Posted by Lizzie on 03/15/07

acceptance1.jpgUPDATE: We now have two copies to give away! Can you say “waitlist”?

We liked high school. We did well in high school. We like books about high school. So we tried to read that Marisha Pessl book. Well, we didn’t try that hard. We read the first page and a half and said NO WAY, NOT IN THIS LIFETIME, IT’S NOT HAPPENING. So thank God for Susan Coll’s Acceptance, which elbowed the Pessl off the bedside table with a digusted thump.

We could go on and on about how actually fine humorous writing is often discounted and overlooked, as is a deft satire, but then we’d say more things like “deft satire” and you’d be bored. We could also go into the marvelous plot, but it’s been months since we read the galley and excitedly emailed the publicist and were like WE LOVED THIS, so that’s pretty much what we’re left with at this juncture. LUCKILY FOR YOU–FSG has very graciously allowed us to post a bit from the start of the book, and has also offered one giveaway copy to a lucky Old Hag entrant.

We thought long and hard about what the challenge should be for all of you, and decided it was easy: just write us with the school you wanted to get into and didn’t. Then we’d laugh, and give it to one of you, so you’d finally have something you tried for in your miserable life. So that’s the challenge.*

But this book gave me great pleasure, so please enjoy, and if you don’t win, please buy:

Grace reminded herself that she had resolved not to get sucked into this snakepit of parental competition. (more…)

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Take Five

Posted by Lizzie on 01/21/07

header.jpgThose of you that ever pay ANY attention to what we do may recall a year or two or so ago–we’re over thirty now; who cares anymore–our trying to get together something called "Teaser" that would print first chapters from forthcoming works. We did, like, two before we were informed that Pride & Prejudice needed repeated watching. Though we still maintain our very wonderful teasers will whup any kind of behind, Five Chapters is attending a little more diligently to a similar project–in a weekly fashion, yet! At this brilliantly simple site, one story is serialized over a work week; a new author arrives each Monday. This week is J. Robert Lennon; you can check out the archives here. (They include Thisbe Nissen, Anthony Swofford and Vendela Vida, just to start.) We actually have a very hard time reading print online (we know, we know, a vegetarian butcher), so we hope the wonderful editor, David Daley, considers adjusting the grayscale text for us old folkspeople who need glasses. The "Print" function is a start–maybe consider a formatted downloadable PDF, or, we don’t know, something with a pretty cover we could buy in a store? Whatever. Live it up, you twentysomething bastards.

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Keep Being Such a Tease

Posted by Lizzie on 03/08/06

This is it. You won’t have the Old Hag to kick around anymore. That is, at least not for a few days, as we’re off to Austin for THIS, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!!!!! (See that guitar? That…neon thing? Writers will be ROCKING OUT.) We asked Schaubie to do a guide to Austin for us neophytes, but we’ve been too busy writing lipstick copy to see if he did it. In any case, we’ve been told the conference center’s bar serves liquor. Go figure.

Anyway, to tide you over for the weekend, we’re featuring an excerpt from a novel entitled All Saints by the now infamous Liam Callanan. See how excited he got when we told him he was going to be on the blog:

His publisher has not finalized the cover yet, but we’ve been told they’re going to be working from this:


We’re worried it might be too subtle for some readers, but, as our grandmother said, face paint can never be too subtle. Here’s the wrapup in the author’s own words:

These selections are from a novel, entitled All Saints, set to launch into an unsuspecting public about a year from now. The narrator is Emily Hamilton, single and 50 and teaching at a co-ed Catholic high school in Orange County, California. She has issues.

Yes. So far Teaser has been all about saints and Catholics, which may be the same thing; we’re not sure. We’re surmising that this is because Catholics reproduce more, hence producing more writers. We’re looking into some Jews, possibly some black folks, for the next one, if we can swing it. Stay tuned.*

*P.S. For those of you who have come this far and may go yet farther, Liam will be reading on Saturday at 1:30 SOMEWHERE in Austin. It should be on the conference schedule. We’re going to be reading from this at some point on Friday in Austin–but, as the song goes, we can’t remember where or when. (Really.) And, since we’re kind of a nervous, skittery reader, do come by and shoot spitballs. Check out the Caketrain table on the books level for more info, or just look around for the really hot girl. She probably won’t know what you’re talking about.

A dark NY scene. [The author left this in here. FYI, it is IRONIC. What follows is not. —Ed.]

I had my first religious vision in midtown Manhattan. My first, and with the way things have gone, probably my last as well. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning, maybe later, maybe earlier, I’m not sure it really matters at that time of night. I’d been in New Rochelle for the evening, visiting a pair of nuns I knew, Maryknoll sisters, Claire and Barbara, who taught there, at the College of New Rochelle. Beautiful women. Sane, grounded women, who knew how to live—who knew, for example, never to let the day pass without a glass of wine, who knew wearing a habit wouldn’t get you a seat on the subway but would sometimes get you a seat on Broadway, who knew war was war even if leaders didn’t call it that, even if most of the fighting was done between men with guns and women with children. Claire and Barbara served in El Salvador in the early 1980s. They were close friends with the three American nuns who were abducted, raped and murdered. Claire and Barbara’s story wasn’t as widely reported, as they didn’t die; it was much more mundane. Claire put a hand to the shoulder of a man who was raping a 13-year-old girl in the back of the orphanage. The man cut off Claire’s hand with a machete. And then, because the man knew they were nuns, and wanted to prove that he, too, was a man of some religious learning, he cut off Barbara’s left ear, just as Peter cut off the servant’s ear in the garden of Gethsemane, in a vain attempt to keep the soldiers from arresting Jesus.

Surely, Claire and Barbara must have screamed. There would have been gasps of pain, tears. But none of the accounts of those in attendance—the girl, the man’s subalterns, other men and women of the village—mention tears or screams. Instead, they all say that Barbara stood against the man and stared and slowly, so slowly, turned her cheek, to expose her remaining ear. And they cite Claire stepping in front of her, holding her handless arm in his face, blinding him with her own blood. The man fell and retched, and, people told authorities, died on the spot.

Claire and Barbara both profess to remember little else of what happened, although they’ve confided in me that he did not die of shame alone.

You’d never know any of their story just looking at them, thanks to plastic surgery, prosthetics, and most incredibly, their ability to still smile, laugh and gossip. Most days they look like they’ve stepped straight out of the pages of one of those expensive gardening catalogs: capable, comfortable and pleased with who they are, where they are.


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Start being such a tease

Posted by Lizzie on 02/20/06

For quite some time, in addition to assiduously watching Kill Bill everytime it airs and making plans to reenter the world of preparing one’s own food, your ol’ Old Hag has been planning a new feature on the site–one that will not only a) exponentially increase the quality of the writing herein, but will 2) allow us to do no work. Let us introduce you all to the win-win of Teaser, people, wherein we “tease”–aha!–you with snippets of forthcoming novels by, you know, other people. (Take that, Amazon fucking shorts!)

maud casey First up is the incomparable Maud Casey. The author of Drastic, a collection of short stories, and The Shape of Things to Come, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Casey was also a contributor to the excellent Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression, which we can inform you from experience is not at all as fun as being on drugs. “Keep Death Daily Before Your Eyes” is a section from her forthcoming novel Genealogy, and here’s where for god’s sake we should have asked the author for a precis of the novel but we forgot so we’ll steal from our fellow Baltimoron and inform you that “Genealogy will use four alternating perspectives to explore the lives of a family affected by mental illness, memory, and the peculiar life of Louise Lateau, a 19th-century Belgian girl who developed a stigmata every day after surviving a cholera epidemic.” That is, “if all goes continues to go according to the plan on her wall.” (We love that wee coda. Our own wall has been fucking with us for months, and if things don’t improve we’re painting it lime green. Try switching chapter 3 to third person indirect then, dude.) In any case, herewith a better wall. Enjoy.

GenealogyEveryone is gone. Most of all her daughter Marguerite with her fierce pointed nose like a command in the center of her face. On a patch of kitchen linoleum warmed by the sun, Samantha Hennart stands in bare feet gnarled with calluses from walking outside with no shoes. The gnarled feet, the warm linoleum, the blackberry bushes that have grown around the periphery of the former train depot—all once a sign of abundance—now only confuse her. She lays the flyswatter on the kitchen table—the same flyswatter she uses to kill flies and bat her gone husband’s high-pitched frequency of disdain out of the air—in order to open the window and let in the familiar sharp mingled smell of ocean salt and cow manure.

“Let it be said,” Sam says out loud. She doesn’t bother to finish the sentence. She’s forgotten how it ends or if it ever had an ending. There is nothing to be said; there is only the silence of her entire absent family. No more footsteps in rooms above her or on the stairs, footsteps that lately were always on their way to other rooms. No more rush of pee in the toilet, no more muffled coughs or stifled sneezes. No more of her son’s plaintive guitar playing from under his closed door. No more rattling pans in the kitchen as her husband warms milk for himself and Marguerite as he prepares to read aloud to her, when he thought Sam wasn’t listening, from that so called sacred text of his about the ecstatic nineteenth-century Belgian girl who bled for God.

But Sam was always listening to the things Bernard was deaf to. “Do you hear the blood rush and swirl?” Marguerite asked yesterday morning before she disappeared. She said it matter-of-factly, as if she was asking what time it was or wondering about the weather. She pinned Sam’s ear with her wrist. That wrist at the end of the slender branch of her arm, her elbow like a giant knob on that slender branch. “Do you hear the blood rush and swirl? Begging me?”

“What is it begging you?”

“Begging to be let out.”

“Let it be said,” Sam says again now. Still nothing occurs to her, so instead she looks out toward the water. This view could save a life. It is that beautiful. The stony fields, fences, and fields, and fences, and fields leased by local Rhode Island farmers, empty space made cozy by the lowing cows swinging their big dumb heads, and finally, just beyond, that quivering line of ocean on the horizon, the allure of all that mysterious water always within sight. The view is saving her life right now.


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