A M Homes, novelist and New Yorker, was in her thirties when her adoptive mother received a telephone call from a lawyer saying that Homes’s biological mother wanted to get in touch with her. In 1961, Ellen Bellman, a young shop assistant having an affair with her married boss, had given up her newborn daughter for adoption; an agency for finding Jewish adopters found the baby a home with a family who had, six months before, lost their nine-year-old son. Now Ellen, still unmarried and living a cranky, lonely and financially precarious life, wrote Homes a letter in which she set out the story of that first, sad affair, and described herself to her daughter in the terms of one tentatively offering the gift of her genetic inheritance: ‘Damp weather is not for me. I do take pills for high blood pressure. Other than that, I am fine. I am nearsighted and do have soft teeth. Both inherited, my eyes from my father, my teeth from my mother.’
When they did meet, in the Oyster Bar of the New York Plaza, Ellen, with big hair and dressed up in shabby fur, had a Baileys Irish Cream and a lobster salad. Homes sipped a Coke and made mental notes of what she would tell her friends about the encounter.