Publisher: Pegasus Books (March 1, 2022)
Hardcover: 336 pages
Praise for THE MYTH OF SURRENDER
“McNees has written a powerful, cinematic, and very beautiful novel about the miracles and catastrophes of motherhood. The women who inhabit this story are all so gloriously alive! Humane, compelling, sharp, and sensitive, The Myth of Surrender will stay with me for a very long time.” —Amy Dickinson, “Ask Amy” advice columnist, New York Times bestselling author of The Mighty Queens of Freeville
“A brave and important book. McNees’s literary acumen is on full display in this beautiful, deeply affecting novel. She explores what it meant to be unwed and pregnant in mid-century America with sensitivity, erudition, and first-rate storytelling. Impossible to put down, this is a spell-binding tale of deceit, abuse, and ultimately, reclamation.” ―Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany
“Both an illumination of the past and an indictment of the present, The Myth of Surrender is McNees at her best—giving voice to women who could not speak for themselves.” —Eleanor Brown, New York Times bestselling author of THE WEIRD SISTERS and THE LIGHT IN PARIS
“A timely and powerful tale of motherhood, loss, and second chances. Kelly O’Connor McNees’s unforgettable novel illuminates an era that all too many people tried to forget. The scars are there—brava to McNees for also revealing the beauty.” —Siobhan Fallon, author of YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE and THE CONFUSION OF LANGUAGES
What if the most important decision of your life was not yours to make? This vivid and powerful novel follows two women whose paths intersect at a maternity home in the “Baby Scoop Era.”
In 1960, free-spirited Doreen is a recent high-school grad and waitress in a Chicago diner. She doesn’t know Margie, sixteen and bookish, who lives a sheltered suburban life, but they soon meet when unplanned pregnancies send them to the Holy Family Home for the Wayward in rural Illinois. Assigned as roommates because their due dates line up, Margie and Doreen navigate Holy Family’s culture of secrecy and shame and become fast friends as the weight of their coming decision — to keep or surrender their babies — becomes clear.
Except, they soon realize, the decision has already been made for them. Holy Family, like many of the maternity homes where 1.5 million women “relinquished” their babies in what is now known as the Baby Scoop Era, is not interested in what the birth mothers want. In its zeal to make the babies “legitimate” in closed adoptions, Holy Family manipulates and bullies birth mothers, often coercing them to sign away their parental rights while still under the effects of anesthesia.
What happens next, as their babies are born and they leave Holy Family behind, will force each woman to confront the depths and limits of motherhood and friendship, and fight to reclaim control over their own lives.
Written by the acclaimed author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott and Undiscovered Country, The Myth of Surrender explores a hidden chapter of American history that still reverberates across the lives of millions of women and their children.
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No one told us how our bodies worked.
When we started bleeding at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, we thought it meant we were dying but kept it to ourselves because we didn’t want to be any trouble. If a girl wore white pants to school, it put everyone on edge, and now and then we’d see that girl crying in the bathroom and wringing them out in the sink.
We saw boys see us and at the same time stop seeing us. Some of them hounded us until we swatted at them, until we found another way to get to school, another door to use, an empty classroom in which to eat our lunch. Some of them loved us, truly, and we loved them back. We knew it was our job to draw them in and keep them away, both at once, just like in the movies. And so we said no but then yes or yes but then no or maybe later, maybe now, and saw up close the seams of sofa cushions, the humid crush of shirt collars, our own wrists twisting to break free of their grip.
When we understood we had started something that couldn’t be stopped, we still tried to stop it. We asked for help from everyone and no one; we kept it completely to ourselves. Using an address we found at the library, we wrote the president of the United States requesting aid.
We drank castor oil by the quart. We sprayed Lysol between our legs. We stood at the top of the stairs and let ourselves tip. Down two $ights, breaking a shoulder, chipping our teeth. But still we could not dislodge it.
The boys said they would marry us when they graduated and got the money together. Or they’d like to, but their parents wouldn’t let them. Or they were sorry, but they had plans. They were going to college, to welding school, to the army—they had people counting on them—other people. Didn’t we know how big the world was, how much of life was ahead of them? We knew.
The boys said nothing and inched out of the frame over the following weeks, hoping no one would notice.
The boys said they’d never laid a finger on us and then got every player on the football team to say we’d made the rounds, that it was impossible to pin the baby on just one boy.
After all, who could trust girls like us?
Copyright © 2022 by Kelly O’Connor McNees
Photo Content from Kelly O’Connor McNees
Kelly O’Connor McNees’s award-winning novels transport readers to pivotal moments in history as seen through the eyes of the resilient, fascinating women who lived through them. Whether it’s a “moving and intimate glimpse” (Publisher’s Weekly) of Eleanor Roosevelt’s love affair with Lorena Hickock in Undiscovered Country, or the tough decisions of Clara, a mail-order bride broker, in In Need of a Good Wife, or Louisa May Alcott’s excruciating choice between love and her writing career in The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, readers are immersed in riveting stories often overlooked in American history.
O’Connor McNees’s forthcoming novel, The Myth of Surrender (March 2022, Pegasus), is the story of an unlikely friendship forged between two young women navigating the secrecy and shame of unwed pregnancy at a home for wayward girls, at the height of the Mad Men age.
In addition to her five novels, Kelly’s writing has appeared in The Millions, The Washington Post, The Toast, and in Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology. She has also written for The Boxcar Children series. Kelly is represented by Kate McKean of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. Born and raised in Michigan, she lives in Chicago with her family.
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