Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Beyond FICTION: THE ENGLISH AMERICAN by Alison Larkin

I spent some wonderful time this evening at the Tattered Cover Book Store in my neck of the woods (there are three in the Denver area and I love them all for different reasons). After ordering Carleen Brice’s Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number from one of the other TC stores; pulling a copy of Patry Francis’s The Liar’s Diary out so it’s more visible on its shelf in the Mystery Section; plucking a nifty copy of The Kids’ Yoga Book of Feelings off a display to bring home for my girls; and following a salesperson back to the front of the store where a huge display of Alison Larkin’s debut novel, The English American, could be seen for miles away by any other shopper but yours truly who’d walked right by it…I doled out some cash, perused some displays, and parked in a chair to wait for Alison Larkin’s presentation to begin.

And I started reading…and laughing…and reading some more of The English American, a book I know I’m going to tear through because it’s just so much fun. As is Alison Larkin, an actress and stand-up comedienne. Alison’s successful one-woman show, also called The English American, pokes fun at the contrasts of her own life, contrasts that formed the basis of her novel’s story and informed its important message regarding the restricted rights of adopted people.

The English American tells the story of a British woman named Pippa Dunn who strives to discover her true roots despite significant emotional, administrative, and other obstacles she’s forced to face throughout the ordeal of researching her birth mother. Pippa’s discovery that her birth mother is American and hails from the Mid-South parallels Alison Larkin’s own fascinating discovery of her birth mother’s identity and background. Alison states clearly, however, that The English American is not a memoir; that she’d have been bored writing a memoir because, frankly, she already knew the story. She wanted to write a novel that would be fun to read; a book paced like the thrillers she loves. So she opted for succinct chapters and direct language and threw in a boatload of humor for good measure. What she created is a work of fiction that packs a wallop of a message: the Draconian (yes, her word; and her accent makes it sound all the more impressive!) laws in America regarding closed adoption files make the process of researching one’s family a daunting if not impossible task for adopted people, many of whom devote much of their lives to this quest. British laws changed in the 1970s, she explained, making the files regarding adoptions there open despite concerns that such laws would result in fewer birth mothers choosing the adoption option, skyrocketing abortion rates, and tremendous emotional distress among all parties involved throughout England….none of which happened.

In fact, Alison Larkin insists, the process of discovering and meeting one’s birth parents is a healing process many need to undertake, a process that is essential for them to ever feel whole, discover where they belong, and have a true chance at happiness. For the emotional sake of their adopted children—and due to the need for biological family medical records—more adoptive parents are voicing concern regarding American adoption laws. Meanwhile birth mothers who desire contact with their grown children are also cheated by their legal limitations.

The emotions experienced and expressed by Pippa, her adoptive parents, and her birth mother throughout the pages of The English American reflect those experienced by Alison Larkin and both her families. While Pippa’s search takes much less time than Alison’s, the red tape and dead ends she encounters frustrate and anger her as they upset Alison. By writing and now promoting this book, Alison Larkin is spreading the word about America’s adoption laws, realizing as she does so that many Americans are unaware of the limited rights of adopted people. As she put it, adopted people are the only people in the U.S. who are forced to change their names—outside of people in the Witness Protection Program—and who are refused access to their own birth certificates. This sort of treatment would make anyone feel like a second-rate citizen. “It’s discrimination,” Alison noted, pausing for a moment from her typically jovial celebration of her story to shed some light on the political—and emotional—issues at the heart of her debut novel. “These laws hurt the people they’re designed to protect.”

11 Comments:

Blogger Barrie said...

Oh, very interesting. I love the topic of adoption. Must add this book to my list. Thank you.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Barrie, I just visited your blog and was cracking up the whole time I read your latest posts. Love your first reviews. :) Enjoy your trip to AZ!! K.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Bella Stander said...

Great post for a terrific book. Wish I could've been there last night, but my aching back put the kibosh on that.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Bella, Hope you're feeling better today. Alison asked me to send along her "hope you get betters" wishes. She really is terrific. Can't wait to read the whole book, K.

2:01 PM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Oh I want to go to a bookstore with you! Sounds like so much fun. I miss being able to browse in English bookstores here. Of course there are a couple, but very limited in their selections. Am glad you put Patry's book front and center! :) I will look for the English American - being married to a Brit, I expect I'll find some amusing bits. :) xo

3:05 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Tara, I'm sure you'll enjoy lots of book browsing during your San Francisco trip next month! And I didn't know your husband is British; let me know what you think of The English American, K.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Now you've added another title to my TBR list!

2:10 AM  
OpenID twoblueday said...

I'd never given a second thought to those "hide the origin" laws until reading your post. There are lots of rules and laws I've seen (in my legal career) which seemed nonsensical, but the adoption laws, since I wasn't directly impacted, just seemed, well, "there" (hope that makes sense).

Book sounds intriguing.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Gerry, I think that's how most Americans consider those laws; not really aware of their impact but generally aware that they exist. I hope Alison's book sheds a lot of awareness and leads to positive change. K.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Carleen Brice said...

Great book!

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrific read. Funny, makes you laugh and cry at the same time. Loved it. Important subject put in a totally accessible way. She's appearing quite a lot. Check out her appearance page on www.alisonlarkin.net for the when and the where. I loved this book.

4:16 PM  

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