Brooklynite’s new novel explores complexities of open adoption


Brooklyn writer Jennifer Gilmore will appear at BookCourt on Tuesday, April 9, to celebrate the release of her novel “The Mothers.” Photo by Amanda Marsalis

Brooklyn Eagle recently reported that award-winning author Jennifer Gilmore will soon release “The Mothers” (Scribner; on-sale April 9, 2013) – a poignant novel that follows one couple’s complex journey to becoming parents.  After years of heartbreaking failure to conceive, the couple finally decides to pursue domestic open adoption. Having gone through the open adoption process herself, Gilmore brings to her novel a rawness and sensitivity that will resonate with her readers, whether or not they themselves are parents.

Gilmore’s characters Jesse and Ramon encounter a slew of complicated circumstances and characters in their attempts to become parents. As they gather advice from other couples at training sessions and through family and friends, Jesse and Ramon are constantly reminded that their quest is a difficult one.

Open adoption – which allows birthmothers to maintain a relationship with their child and the adoptive parents – is a controversial practice, yet Gilmore’s own experience allows her to approach the subject with an informed perspective. She depicts Jesse’s and Ramon’s pain with delicate honesty, capturing moments that test the couple’s patience and even their marriage. Despite the heaviness of her subject matter, Gilmore manages to integrate some comic relief into the story; “The Mothers” is at once a charming and emotional read.

Gilmore will appear at BookCourt in Cobble Hill on Tuesday, April 9, for a reading, audience Q&A, and book signing. In celebration of the book’s release, Brooklyn Eagle spoke to the author about the making of “The Mothers.” She shares with us the most difficult aspect of writing this book and offers a preview of what she’s working on now.

Was it difficult to separate your own experience from the one you created for your characters?

That part was easy—I chose to write a novel, as opposed to a memoir, so I could give these characters new experiences, emotions, reactions. The seed of the story—that a couple is struggling to have children—this is truth.  And my husband and I did have a very difficult adoption journey.  But my reactions to this situation and my protagonist’s reactions diverge quite a bit.  I am pretty hard on her.

Did you have any hesitations about writing about this sensitive subject?

The hardest part was allowing myself to write a book that was so much about a woman’s preoccupations rather than a big social novel.  It was ridiculous and dismissive of women’s concerns, of my own concerns, and I had to overcome that to realize these issues of wanting to be parents, and of the way that looks in our culture, are broad and important issues in our culture.

How has your family reacted to this work?

 My family has been dealing with me as a novelist for a long time. They know the drill.  With this book, my husband has been particularly supportive. He has said that I have taken this horrible thing that was happening to us and made something creative out of it, and that has been a valuable reaction for me.

Where in Brooklyn do you live and when did you move there?

I live in Carroll Gardens. I moved here in 1997 when you couldn’t even make a photocopy.  Apparently that was important to me then. Now, of course, there are restaurants and boutiques and a farmer’s market, though it is still difficult to make a photocopy. It is getting so expensive I fear we will have to leave soon.

Where do you like to write?

Until recently I had a dog and for that reason I liked to write at home.  I loved her under my desk, another heartbeat.  But I need a discrete room to write in and I don’t have that right now. I’ve been trying to work at the library, but that has its own strange distractions.  In general I like to write where I am not near other humans and it is very quiet.

What are you reading now?

I teach and so I am reading a lot of my students’ work.  I just finished Meg Wolitzer’s novel, “The Interestings,” which I loved.  I want to read Fiona Maazel’s “Woke Up Lonely” as soon as I can.

Are you working on a new novel?

I have been in and out of a new book that takes place in Greece.  I have spent a good deal of time there because my spouse’s mother lives on an island in the Cyclades. It seems like paradise as I write this, and it is beautiful, but there is a lot of fodder for a novel there, big time.

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Jennifer Gilmore is the author of two novels, “Golden Country,” a 2006 New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Jewish Book Award, and “Something Red,” a New York Times Notable Book of 2010. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Allure, Bomb, Bookforum, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, Salon, Self, Tin House, Vogue, and The Washington Post. She has been a MacDowell Colony fellow and has taught writing and literature at Cornell University, Barnard College, Eugene Lang College at the New School, and New York University. Currently, she teaches at Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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The April 9 event will begin at 7 p.m. BookCourt is located at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill.

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