Children’s earliest memories are of their families. Siblings, especially the closer they are in age, are our first friends, the only people in the world who shared the same womb and share the same memories. But what if your only memories of your siblings are how they disappeared?
Mary Anna King’s new memoir, Bastards, is the story of her fractured family. Growing up in New Jersey, she never realized the depth of her parents’ poverty, even when they gave away five of her younger sisters to make ends meet. It wasn’t until one of those sisters returned well-dressed and well-mannered that King began to see her own family through someone else’s eyes. King, as well as her brother, were taken to Oklahoma to be raised by her maternal grandfather and his second wife—a couple with lots of possessions, but not a lot of warmth. Though she was provided for, King and her brother continude to struggle with the memories of the family they left behind, always wondering about the sisters they lost.
King tells her story in straightforward fashion without judgment or regret, though her tone mixes melancholy with moments of hilarity. When she begins to be reunited with her sisters as a college student, there are no sentimental scenes of hugs and kisses. The siblings get drunk, smoke pot, argue and go on road trips, all while trying to fill the holes left by the girls’ adoptions. King is frank about the damage done by her troubled parents, especially her estranged father, and the consequences of their choices. Ultimately, though, the siblings find connection and acceptance, however imperfect, and begin to make new memories as a whole family again.