Adele Parks’ “The Stranger in my Home” follows the story of Alison, a loving, highly controlling housewife, who soon finds out that her brilliant and dearly beloved daughter Katherine is not her biological child. This devastating discovery eventually ensues a rift between her and her husband, Jeff, while she develops a close friendship with Katherine’s biological father.
The title of the book can be interpreted as the people Alison slowly feels estranged from as the family conflict persists. Initially, it can be thought to be Katherine for being Alison’s non-biological child. After learning the truth about her birth, Katherine starts distancing herself from Alison and refuses to confide anything with her mother. And while she starts showing interest in knowing her birth family, Alison struggles with accepting and welcoming her biological daughter, Olivia, who equals her lack of enthusiasm with coldness and indifference, into their lives. She then finds her relationship with Jeff slowly deteriorating due to their differences in opinion about their predicament. However still, the final chapters of the story reveals that the real stranger is the one whom Alison becomes most unsuspicious of.
To me, it is easy to prematurely dismiss Alison’s character as typical. A typical parent who suffered so much in life and now does everything in her power for her child to not suffer the same unfortunate life, so much so that she becomes overbearing and over-controlling. Even when she starts acknowledging Olivia as her own and the fact that they have similarities, she worries that Olivia might someday become like her. Moreover, her “perfect” motherhood to Katherine appears to be a means to make up for a really big mistake she made in the past; a mistake that threatens to repeat itself in the present time with the discovery that Katherine is not hers biologically. In a way, I see her motherhood as an atonement for her sin.
Cleaning up messes made me feel useful and purposeful.
However, Parks brilliantly displaces this impression through her occasional references to “Mother Natures’ mothers.” Allusions to the extraordinary ways mothers of different species care for their young paint the reader a beautiful and heart-warming picture of what motherhood is. It sends the beautiful message that across all species, a mother’s love is ever ferocious.
And although it is easy to make hasty assumptions about the protagonist’s personality, the flashbacks in-between chapters proves useful not only in providing additional subplots, but also in helping the reader understand Alison’s fear of losing another child. More importantly, it also makes an artful effect of intensifying the marital conflict slowly building between her and Jeff.
While I wouldn’t exactly mark this book as one of the most enthralling I’ve read by far, Parks’ work is undeniably thought-provoking. Any mother would find it unimaginable to discover the child they spent a lifetime caring for isn’t truly theirs. Although responses to such dilemmas might differ, I think any mother can still relate to Alison’s ferocious love for her daughter (regardless of the biological relation). Even the soon-to-be mothers and the aspiring ones can find inspiration in this book to be as ferocious when their own “mom time” has come.