Dani Shapiro is an accomplished writer who accidentally discovered, one June during midlife, that she shares no DNA with her idolized, deceased father. By conceiving with a sperm donor, her parents had done something radical during a time when “religious leaders of every faith decreed donor insemination an abomination…. It was often considered adultery, and the child a bastard.” To say the news throws her for a loop is to say nothing of Inheritance, the book that chronicles, in painstaking detail, how Shapiro wrestled to reclaim her identity, perhaps to truly claim it for the first time: “I had felt every day since the previous June that I now lived—exiled, forever wandering—in no-man’s-land. But the truth was that this had always been the case.”
To a member of a blended family used to thinking of familial relationships as more brethren than blood, Shapiro’s traumatization, or at least her dissection of it, felt a bit overdone. That said, there’s no questioning her ability to form art out of words, and Inheritance provides plenty of general interest. A rabbi tells Shapiro: “You can say, ‘This is impossible, terrible.’ Or you can say, ‘This is beautiful, wonderful.’ You can imagine that you’re in exile. Or you can imagine that you have more than one home.” She later realizes: “The choice wasn’t to see it as one or the other. It was to embrace it as both.”
Still, I’d hoped for a larger treatment of what it means to be family viewed through the prism of one person’s journey. Instead, I got the beautifully worded diary written on the ride.