"Beware: This extraoridnary work of fiction is for courageous readers only. Beautifully written, dazzingly conceieved, it makes us think--hard--about what it is to be a parent." -- Lou Ann Walker, author of A Loss for Words
Deborah and Chris Latham have everything they could possibly want: a warm, loving marriage, a beautiful daughter, and a stable life in a sweet resort community on Long Island. When they hear about a small Romanian boy who is languishing in a depressed Eastern European orphanage, neither Deborah nor Chris hesitates for an instant. They want Mihai for their own, and they know they can help him. if any family has enough love to spare, it is the Lathams.
In a matter of months, Mihai becomes Michael Latham. Deborah, Chris, and their three-year-old daughter, Caroline, take him in eagerly, knowing that soon enough he will truly feel like a member of the family. But as time passes, Michael grows more unpredictable, careening between violent behavior and emotional withdrawal. Living with such difficulties in their midst has its cost for all of the Lathams and as each family member responds in their own way, and for their own reasons, the questions begin to surface.
How much love does it take to save a child from his past? Is there such a thing as unconditional parentallove? Should a family's survival take precedence over that of one of its members? Where do you draw the line? And at what cost?
With unflinching honesty, A Member of the Family asks questions most parents never dream of considering. Eloquent and provocative, this exquisitely written novel may break your heart, but you will never forget it.
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Susan Merrell has written for Self, New Woman, Parenting, and Parents. She is the author of The Accidental Bond: How Sibling Connections Influence Adult Relationships. She lives in Sag Harbor, New York with her husband Jim, an architect, and her children Maggie and Jake. A Member of the Family is her first work of fiction.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"You know who's stupid?"
"Don't say that word, Michael."
"Mrs. Doroski's stupid. That's who."
"You heard when Daddy said about George Washington?"
"What about George Washington?"
"When Daddy said about George Washington wore dead people's teeth? From dead soldiers? They took their teeth even though they were dead? Remember?"
Deborah Latham glanced in the rearview mirror. Michael was grinning excitedly. "Yuck. Why were you talking about that?"
"His teeth, gross, it's cool. Mrs. Doroski's stupid. She says George Washington had wooden teeth."
"That's what I learned in school, too," she said mildly. "Maybe Daddy got it wrong."
"Mrs. Doroski is stupid."
"No, she's not. Don't say that. It's rude."
Deborah Latham's toes were cold; she should have worn sneakers instead of sandals this morning. Fall, as always, had arrived surreptitiously. Temperatures dropped overnight. In a few days, autumn hues would erupt on both sides of Sagg Road, and the sand at Gibson Beach would be chilly under her toes.
She loved autumn; her husband yearned for it. Chris Latham, born and raised in Sag Harbor, detested the honking horns and broken beer bottles that were all he noticed of tourist-filled summers. He lived for Labor Day, when Main Street quieted and he knew the name of every strolling window-shopper. To a certain extent, Deborah had to agree with him: Although Sag Harbor in summer was picture-perfect, it was only during the other three seasons of the year that the village was a pleasant place to live.
The biggest problem with this autumn was that Michael Latham didn't want to go to kindergarten.
"I don't like school," he said now. "And I don't want to go."
"Michael, Honey, lots of kids don't like it at first. Caroline clung to my legs so hard I had to carry her into the classroom. For at least a week. But look how much she likes it now. She runs out to the bus every morning. You have to give school a try."
"I did. I already did."
"I mean a real try, not just a few days. Really give school a chance."
Parked back here, across the playground from the building, Deborah couldn't hear shouts or giggles, or the thundering pound of feet up and down the three flights of stairs. Michael was silent, staring out the window at the last few stragglers running into the brick elementary school. She thought, I can actually feel his resistance, he's glued to that seat Iike a war protester. And I won't carry him in. I couldn't.
"Hey," she said softly. "If I tell you the story again, quickly, will you walk in with me? Give it another try?"
He eyed her.
"Come on, Michael. Please."
Although his lips were tight and unyielding, he nodded. "Okay, I guess."
Deborah Latham had told this story so many times over the last three years that when she opened her mouth, the words arranged themselves effortlessly. "Back when you were just a baby, a long, long time ago, you lived halfway around the world, in a country called Romania, a beautiful country with mountains and white sandy beaches and tall trees in ancient forests. The land was beautiful, but the people were very poor. They had difficult lives, with little food to eat. There were lots of problems there. And many people could not afford to keep their own children, to raise them, even though they loved them very much. Your mother tried very, very hard to keep you. She worked hard and struggled and took wonderful care of you. She was a good, good mother. But there was a terrible accident--you should never be scared of that kind of accident again, because it will never happen to me or to your father."
Michael sighed happily, settling back in his seat.
"And you were sent to live in an awful place called an orphanage. Do you remember it?"
He shook his head, no.
"You really don't, do you?"
No, he shook his head again, vehemently. No.
Thank God for that.
"Well, you were there for about a year, a little longer, but you didn't have to stay. You were lucky. Because we knew Viorica and she found you, and when she saw you, she just knew right away.
"She knew right away," he repeated dreamily.
"Yes, Sweetheart. She could tell how special you are and how right you would be here. With us. She saw you belonged to me and Daddy, and to Caro."
"Did you already love me, even then? Did you love me?"
"We didn't even know about you, Silly! But Viorica came back to America as quickly as she could, and she said, I found a child, a little boy, and he should belong to you."
"And even though you and Daddy hadn't thought of having me, and didn't make me in your body, you still wanted me."
"You remember that part."
"The minute Viorica told you, you looked at Daddy and he looked at you, and you nodded at each other, and you turned back and said to Viorica, 'Of course we want him, as fast as we can get him,' and Caro said, 'A baby brother, for me!"
"That's right, Sweetheart. And then we met with the social worker from the adoption agency, and she came and looked us over a million times, and we worked with the Immigration Department, and filled out so many papers you can't believe it. After a while, we found a great lawyer, and she helped us so much. Then, before you could say hinkety blink . . ."
"Hinkety blink!" He giggled.
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