Don't You Ever: My Mother and Her Secret Son (Paperback)
Award-winning journalist Mary Carter Bishop plumbed the depths of family history to present a bittersweet story that grips the reader from the first chapter. Like any book that begins with the ostensible climax, it is in the journey, and the telling of the journey, that readers will find most rewarding.
In Don’t You Ever, Bishop tells of discovering, as an adult, that she had an older half-brother, her efforts years later to track him down and the struggle to understand the complicated relationship between her mother and brother.
Bishop walks readers through the surprise, the mystery, the joy and ultimately the heartbreak of finding and losing an all-but-unknown brother. She contrasts simply and knowingly her loving childhood with the sad, survival-focused growing up of her brother, who lived mostly in self-imposed isolation, developing a cautiousness that was as much the cause of his death as the tragic disease that ultimately took his life.
Bishop, who had her mother’s permission to write the story only after her death, treats her family and honestly but kindly honestly. Her mother’s explanations and justification, along with the retelling of long-ago conversations, especially the title’s origin story, depict the
Bishop, who was a Pultizer-Prize finalist for investigative journalism while at The Roanoke Times and part of a winning team at The Philadelphia Inquirer, acknowledges the holes deliberately left in the story and the questions that will never be answered. The story is as poignant through what it doesn’t tell, what Bishop chose not to pursue or report: names not disclosed, leads not pursued.
In the end Bishop’s story is as much about a discovering the mother she had never known as the brother.— Doloris Vest
“In this profound memoir, Mary Carter Bishop takes an openhearted and unflinching look at a family history that is equal parts love story and requiem for a brother she barely knew. Bishop turns her formidable investigative journalism skills inward to unearth long-simmering class and culture divides in bucolic rural Virginia."--Beth Macy
From a prizewinning journalist, Mary Carter Bishop, a moving and beautifully rendered memoir about the half-brother she didn’t know existed that hauntingly explores family, class, secrets, and fate.
Applying for a passport as an adult, Mary Carter Bishop made a shocking discovery. She had a secret half-brother. Her mother, a farm manager’s wife on a country estate, told Mary Carter the abandoned boy was a youthful "mistake" from an encounter with a married man. There’d been a home for unwed mothers; foster parents; an orphanage.
Nine years later, Mary Carter tracked Ronnie down at the barbershop where he worked, and found a near-broken man—someone kind, and happy to meet her, but someone also deeply and irreversibly damaged by a life of neglect and abuse at the hands of an uncaring system. He was also disfigured because of a rare medical condition that would eventually kill him, three years after their reunion. During that window, Mary Carter grew close to Ronnie, and as she learned more about him she became consumed by his story. How had Ronnie’s life gone so wrong when hers had gone so well? How could she reconcile the doting, generous mother she knew with a woman who could not bring herself to acknowledge her own son?
Digging deep into her family’s lives for understanding, Mary Carter unfolds a sweeping story of religious intolerance, poverty, fear, ambition, class, and social expectations. Don’t You Ever is a modern Dickensian tale about a child seemingly cursed from birth; a woman shattered by guilt; a husband plagued by self-doubt; a prodigal daughter whose innocence was cruelly snatched away—all living in genteel central Virginia, a world defined by extremes of rural poverty and fabulous wealth.
A riveting memoir about a family haunted by a shameful secret, Don’t You Ever is a powerful story of a woman’s search for her long-hidden sibling, and the factors that profoundly impact our individual destinies.
About the Author
A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, Mary Carter Bishop was on the Philadelphia Inquirer team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of nuclear leaks at Three Mile Island. Her Roanoke Times & World-News series on poisonings and fraud by exterminators and other pesticide users won a George Polk Award and was a Pulitzer finalist.
“In lesser hands, this memoir could’ve flopped, but Bishop is a seasoned award-winning newspaper reporter who reveals a fascinating segment of her life in clear, unflinching style.... [Don’t You Ever is] brave and terrific.”
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A powerful study in empathy.”
— Charlotte Observer
“In this profound memoir, Bishop takes an open-hearted and unflinching look at a family history that is equal parts love story and requiem for a brother she barely knew. Bishop turns her formidable investigative journalism skills inward to unearth long-simmering class and culture divides in bucolic rural Virginia.”
— Beth Macy, author of Truevine and Factory Man
“Bishop digs deep into her own past, exposing class structure...genteel poverty, self-loathing, and self-doubt in a deeply honest manner… This powerful tale lays bare the cancer of shame and its often devastating results.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“To the extraordinary benefit of readers, Bishop turns her prize-winning journalistic skills towards her family’s history in her first book…. Bishop’s research and clear, heartfelt writing render her story deeply personal and culturally essential.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“The narrative moves fluidly… Both of the author’s key subjects come across as baffling, complicated individuals, deserving of love and respect despite their flaws, shaped by a society that viewed a mother who had a child out of wedlock as shameful. A precise and honest depiction of a family wound that has still not entirely healed.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“For three decades Mary Carter Bishop has stood at the forefront of Virginia journalists, thanks to her relentlessness as a reporter and her elegance, control, and empathy as a storyteller. With Don’t You Ever, she applies these gifts to a deeply personal tale at once tragic, infuriating, and wondrous, and reveals herself to be as big-hearted in life as she is on the page. Readers who’ve missed her past work owe themselves the pleasure of meeting her now.”
— Earl Swift, author of Chesapeake Requiem