Where We Belong
It has been a long time since a book kept me up until 3 a.m. reading. I tried to turn out the lights at 12 a.m but lay there unable to sleep, thinking about the characters’ journey. I had to know how it ended. Beautifully written Where We Belong is a novel teeming with a myriad of emotions laid bare after years of suppression.
Thirty-six-year-old Marian Caldwell has finally achieved her professional goals and, after two years of being in a good relationship, she is ready to move forward. She wants to get married and have a family. However Peter, her significant other, is not ready for that step. After a night out she finally broaches the subject and Peter deftly dances around it. Out of sorts and hurt, she ends their evening and goes home alone. Later that night when the doorman buzzes her apartment she is elated thinking that Peter has come by to make up. But she opens the door to her past and a secret she has kept hidden for eighteen years. Her daughter is on the other side wanting answers.
Kirby has always known that her adoptive parents love her and her sister Charlotte (her parents’ natural child) equally. And it is not until the fifth grade that she even wonders about her birth mother. However once the idea takes hold she is fascinated with adoption reunion stories. As she grows older, entering into the unsettled adolescent years she starts to feel that a part of her is missing. Feeling like an oddity, confused about the direction of her life, Kirby becomes more adrift her senior year, especially since everything seems to come so easy to Charlotte. Minor rebellion ensues causing her to feel more and more on the outs with her parents. She has known for a while that at eighteen she can contact the adoption agency for her mother’s name and address. After overhearing her parents blaming nature instead of nurture for her erratic moods, she sneaks off to New York City to find her mother.
Marian’s overriding emotion is guilt. Not so much because she gave up her child, although that does play into it but because she never told Kirby’s father Conrad Knight that she had a baby. They both knew it was a summer romance. Each had just graduated from high school and she was off to college. Voted most likely to succeed, she had her career path firmly planned out. Conrad only knew that he didn’t want to conform to a square peg like everyone else.
Marian, panicked after missing her period, let Conrad take charge. After using the kit he bought, she lied to him saying it was a false alarm and then callously broke up with him ahead of her scheduled departure for college. She hid her pregnancy from everyone except her mother. And eighteen years later she still hasn’t told a soul – not even Peter.
Initially both Marian and Kirby nonchalantly interact on a superficial level. Marion takes her shopping and to see the sights and even introduces her to friends – but not as her daughter. They both adeptly avoid the elephant in the room. But the crack in the façade is permanent –the secret along with the suppressed feelings of regrets and loss come bubbling to the surface.
The story is successfully told in first person, alternating between Marian’s and Kirby’s point of view. Their awkward, stilted beginning is both painful and mesmerizing. The embodied feelings that the characters have reflect such genuine realism, instead of the magical fantasy of finding a birth parent. Kirby’s parents’ discomfort as their daughter reaches out to another individual is more stereotypical, but rings true.
The underlying theme that we can’t change the past is both disheartening and empowering. There is no denying that people slip up. They make choices that they later question or regret. But there is power in forgiving ourselves and forgiving others – that is what this book is about.
It has been a while since I read a book by Ms. Giffin. I thought I remembered her books as being more lighthearted. Still I appreciated the depth of emotion this book evoked. I suspect you will too.