Novel explores what happens when adoption means maladjustment


By Ashley Nelson Levy

Ashley Nelson Levy’s debut novel begins: “Last night I told you today might be tough for us. The narrator speaks to her younger brother, Danny, on her wedding day. She seems annoyed by the mundane family obligations: composing a toast, helping choose the cake. The tone is brittle; the trouble seems insignificant. Soon, “Immediate Family” opens to reveal the years of sibling grievances informing those frosty opening scenes, though a central tension to the story lies in the part of the blame that falls on Danny and his. situation.

Danny was adopted from an orphanage in Thailand, where he slept in a room that could hold 50 children. When he joined the Larsen family, at the age of 3, he did not know English and very little Thai. He is undernourished. A toy truck confuses him. Soon the tantrums begin: “The sound of your pain was incredible,” recalls the narrator. “It always seemed to readjust itself, find endless ways to destabilize you and us.” In junior high school, Danny became the target of bullies and got into fights. He is labeled “angry”. Who in his place would not be?

Throughout “Immediate Family,” the narrator probes her identity as the older sister of a boy who confuses her, but also as the mother she aspires to be. At the time of the marriage, she spent months undergoing fertility treatments, and her desire to reproduce – her willingness to undergo endless tests, drugs and interventions to create a child who is genetically related to her – is both a mirror and a counterpoint for her. the parents’ painful quest to adopt Danny.

Considering the narrator’s medical and family struggles, the book’s general hum of exasperation is appropriate. But the most memorable parts of “Immediate Family” are the funny parts. These are also the times when Danny is most three-dimensional: when he misses the chance to walk around during his college graduation ceremony and instead hosts a ceremony in the backyard, with the local newspaper replacing one. diploma. Or when he smashes into the family car and pulls up to McDonald’s in the punctured vehicle to offer his dad a Happy Meal. When the book’s chronic exasperation gives way to affection and hilarity, it’s as if someone has opened all the windows.

“Immediate Family” is presented as a novel, but it is difficult to place it as such. Although it is addressed to Danny, this is not an epistolary novel, nor does it have any formal vanity or intrigue. It does not change the outlook or make it much more difficult for the narrator to recount events. There is no construction of the world, no tears in the space-time continuum. It reads like a long personal essay, with a few of the genre tweaks, such as the semi-digested pieces of research that sometimes crop up: a few conscientious paragraphs on the history of transracial adoption, a list of Victorian novels featuring in scene of the foundlings. children, a quote from a PDF of the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Children who grow up in very emotionally disadvantaged environments are often programmed for challenge and detachment. It is devilishly difficult to reverse the conditioning of early neglect, which can lead to impulsive and unconscious behavior. Towards the end of “Immediate Family,” Danny begins to steal his parents’ credit card information to make wacky purchases. He raised funds for a year-long Christian mission trip, quit after three weeks, and used his donors’ money for a down payment on an apartment. For her sister, a painful choice presents itself. She can accept her brother as he is, which is a form of abandonment. Or she can continue to hope that he will change, which virtually guarantees her continued frustration and resentment – these are the emotions that dominate this book. But as anyone who has ever had a family can attest, they are often inseparable from love.

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