Kate St. Vincent Vogl was a young woman with a full life, a new baby and no interest in finding her birth mother until the phone rang one night. It was Val, who had given her up for adoption nearly 30 years earlier.
With that first conversation, Kate began a reluctant process of opening to a different and fuller definition of what a family is.
Vogl is a Twin Cities writer who teaches at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and recently won her second honorable mention in the Hemingway Awards for a short story. Her memoir, "Lost and Found" (North Star Press, 292 pages, $14.95), is a compelling enough story for drama at times: Young woman gives birth to a daughter, then her own beloved mother dies from complications of chemotherapy. Into that hole comes the birth mother who has been hunting for Kate and finds her through her mother's obituary.
But like real life, there are no violins playing in the background.
Vogl knew she was adopted but she saw no need to find her blood relatives. Aside from scanning passersby for someone with a resemblance to her, she had pushed her past aside.
When she agrees to let Val into her home, she keeps her heart off limits. Birthday card for the baby, yes. Birthday card for her, no. Holidays, no.
Even as she meets more members of her birth families, she continues to keep Val at a distance. Family life gets complicated in other ways. Her widowed father finds love again and brings yet another mother figure into her life. As her extended families grow, marry and remarry, she starts to loosen her tight definition of who belongs to whom.
Vogl produces some nice scenes, especially the one in which Val comes upon a Mother's Day present Kate had given her late mother years before. And she has some nice narrative threads, like the discovery of someone who looks like her, and coming to terms with the word "mother."
For such an emotional story, though, something is lost in the telling. At times, Vogl lapses into flat recitations of events and characters, keeping the reader at a distance as Kate struggles to find the right place in her life for Val.
Still, "Lost and Found" has much to offer and will resonate with people who have had any part of an adoption story.
Maureen McCarthy is a team leader at the Star Tribune.