Sunday, June 18, 2006

"Blood Ties" by Ralph McInerny (St. Martin's, 2005)

If you're not too young to remember the "Father Dowling" television series, perhaps you will be surprised to learn that the author of the books that prompted the show is still writing them. I've never met Ralph McInerny, who taught philosophy at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. But I started reading his mystery novels after a brief summer internship at an extremely conservative Catholic magazine where he was publisher.

The Father Dowling mysteries are set in Chicago (McInerny has another series set at Notre Dame) and feature recurring characters. I find his novels to have too many characters: he loves to give lots of background on even minor ones, which I find confusing. But I was annoyed by Blood Ties for more substantial reasons.

The plot revolves around an adoption: a 23-year-old woman decides to search for her birthmother. Meanwhile, her birthfather, who abandoned the birthmother at the birth, now wants to claim his long-lost daughter. He ends up dead and assorted family members, lawyers, detectives, other peripheral characters, and, of course, Father Dowling all get involved in trying to solve the murder--and to figure out who the birthmother is.

The mystery is mildly engaging though convoluted, but the language and storyline around the adoption is positively antiquated and offensive. As someone with experience in many sides of adoption, I find it unbelievable that a book written in this day and age still uses the inaccurate and offensive terms "real" mother and "give up" for adoption. Birthmothers or biological mothers are no more "real" than adoptive mothers (in fact, one could argue that adoptive mothers are children's "real" mothers), and birthmothers (and sometimes birthfathers) make adoption plans for their children, they don't "give them up" like some inanimate object.

And the antiquated underlying plot--that both the birthmother and the adoptive family would do anything to prevent either the secret of the adoption from becoming public or the birthmother and child from meeting--is dangerous and frankly becoming uncomon in an era when nearly all adoptions (domestic ones, at least) are open.

Since he sneaks in his editorializing about the birthmother's virtue for not choosing to abort when she becomes pregnant in college, I suspect McInerny (known for directing the conservative Jacques Maritain Center at ND) sees this plot as "prolife." It's nothing of the sort. He has done a major disservice to all those involved in adoption who have tried to correct the image of this choice as sordid. Birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptees should all protest this and other books like it.

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