Jesse, the narrator of Jennifer Gilmore’s third novel, The Mothers, desperately wants a child.
You and your husband have embarked on a similar quest to Jesse via open adoption. How close are the events you describe to your own life?
It’s obviously true that we’ve made a protracted adoption journey. But a lot of it is fictionalized because I wanted to examine open adoption and how fraught could be, and also to look at issues of race and class and how in our culture they are viewed and affected in the adoption process. I saw a lot of mixed couples, and I wanted to describe which of them were rejected and which were embraced.
Was it hard for you to revisit all the frustrations, indignities and heartbreaks of the open adoption process, or was it cathartic to get it out of your mind and on paper?
I really don’t feel that writing is therapy. However, to be working on the novel as events were happening --as opposed to just suffering through them--was very important to me.
Why did you fictionalize your experience rather than relate it as nonfiction?
I really feel like a novelist and I felt that I could tell that story better as a novel than as a memoir. I started looking at the issues involved in open adoption through other couples’ experiences as well as our own to make it more interesting.
Did you write the novel so those in a similar situation could find solace in knowing that other adoptive couples have endured the same problems?
The process of open adoption is not discussed in the way it should be. Everyone I know who has adopted domestically has at least one tragic story. It was important to me to be able to describe those situations.
Jesse is a wonderful character because you make her so real. She is prickly, abrasive, acerbic and often just plain difficult to get along with. She’s also witty and quite funny. How did she develop as a character?
I just heard her voice coming to me at different times. I needed the reader to feel how hard it was on Jesse but also to describe what a prolonged and torturous process does to the marriage. Having spoken to many other people who have gone through this, I was able to create her as an amalgamation of my feelings and others’ as well.
In the acknowledgments of the novel you thank your editor, Alexis Gargagliano, ”who gave this book its happy ending.” Were you referring to the hopeful way the novel ends, with the couple thinking they have found their child, or in more general terms?
Alexis has been my editor for every book I’ve written. She is amazing. She gave it a happy ending by loving it and she also encouraged me in my darkest hours. So the ambiguously happy ending was little bit like riding on hope, but it was more that I could expect at the time.
Was there a real happy ending?
Yes. A few days ago we came home to Brooklyn with a baby boy two weeks old.