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Down the Rabbit Hole with Family Secrets
Episode 8430th January 2024 • Family Twist • Corey and Kendall Stulce
00:00:00 00:38:23

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In a captivating episode of the Family Twist podcast, Kendall Stulce sits down with author Kate Brody to explore the intertwining of personal narratives and fictional storytelling. Brody, drawing from her own experience of discovering a secret brother, shares insights on family dynamics, the complexities of blended families and the emotional journey of reconnecting with estranged family members. The episode dives deep into the nuances of adoption, secret siblings and how these realities can influence fictional narratives.

Down the Rabbit Hole with Family Secrets

Highlights from the Episode:

  • Kate Brody discusses the connection between her personal story of finding her long-lost brother and her book "Rabbit Hole."
  • The book's main character, Teddy, reflects Kate's family structure, with a focus on abandoned and restarted familial relationships.
  • Brody's interest in exploring common yet often unspoken family dynamics such as secret siblings and family shame.
  • The impact of Brody's piece in the Guardian, which resonated with many people experiencing similar family situations.
  • Kate’s reflections on how fiction can serve as a means of rewriting history or extending an apology.
  • The reactions of Kate’s siblings and brother to her book and Guardian article.
  • Kendall Stulce shares his own adoption story, drawing parallels to Brody's experiences.
  • Discussion on cultural shifts and the impact of DNA technology on family secrets and adoption.
  • The exploration of sibling relationships in fiction, emphasizing genetic similarity versus shared history.
  • Brody's book tour experiences and the response from readers who resonate with her personal and fictional stories.

This episode of Family Twist offers a profound look into the delicate balance between fiction and reality, especially when it comes to familial relationships. Kate Brody's personal experiences with her long-lost brother and her family's dynamics provide a unique backdrop to her fictional work, blurring the lines between art and life. The conversation with Kendall Stulce adds depth, highlighting the universal themes of adoption, family secrets, and the pursuit of belonging. This episode is a must-listen for anyone intrigued by the intricate ways our personal histories shape our creative expressions.

Guest bio:

Kate Brody lives in Los Angeles, California. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Lit Hub, CrimeReads, Electric Lit, The Rumpus, and The Literary Review, among other publications. She holds an MFA from NYU. "Rabbit Hole" is her debut novel.

Kate's essay in The Guardian

Kate's essay in The New York Times

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Transcripts

Kendall Stulce: [:

Kate Brody: Thank you so much for having me.

Kendall Stulce: I just mentioned off the air that Corey and I already bought a copy of your new book and, we can't wait to receive it. honestly, even if we had received it, I think I like to go into some of these conversations blind so that, you know, I don't have preconceived notions about what you might say So I think the timing is, is great.

Kate Brody: thank you for ordering. I hope, I hope you enjoy.

Kendall Stulce: Well, I can tell from what I read about it that I'm going to be intrigued. So is there a connection between your personal story of finding your long lost brother and the content in the book, which of course is fiction?

s like loosely modeled on my [:

my dad had a son who was older than me. not by much, like about a year and a half. So Teddy, who's the main character of Rabbit Hole, Has a similar structure. She has this half brother, her father's son, from a previous marriage and, he has been kind of abandoned really by her father who has instead, started this new family and kind of tried to restart his life.

So that was similar, I think, to, to our structure. although in my case, it wasn't my dad's son from a previous marriage. It was, um. Really less substantial the relationship than that.

Kendall Stulce: right, right. And, and that sounds very purposeful. Like you, you know, wanted that, right? I mean, it didn't just happen. You, you wrote it that way.

ardian, I heard from so many [:

and that was also really illuminating hearing from all these people, because I think a lot of us live with that as like a family shame, but it is really such a, I mean, life is messy and people have these. Situations. Um, and they're, they're so much more common than you realize. I mean, I even heard from friends, so I had no idea.

They were like, oh, yeah, I have, I have something similar like this. Um, so it's kind of this, open secret in a way. And I think that was something I wanted to explore in the book. And also, I wrote an essay. It felt like an apology in a way, like a way of fiction is a way sometimes of, rewriting history.

So it was a bit, a way of kind of reaching out or, changing the narrative.

ve you heard from your, long [:

Kate Brody: My sisters had read early versions of the book, so they're not surprised by any of it. I don't think my brother has read it yet. I don't get the sense he's a big fiction reader, but I assume he will at some point. He obviously, Read the guardian piece because I, you know, told him you have full veto power over this.

Um, and he was very pleased by it. I think very, like, moved by it. I think so much of the problem for him has been feeling like. we were trying to write him out of the family, you know, like there was just no acknowledgement of, his life and his presence. So, uh, it was a corrective in a way I was nervous about it, but I, he was very gracious, very generous.

d the Guardian article, I, I [:

So, Part of my story sounds like yours with my mother's family because My mother has never spoken to me and my, one sister and I are very close. The other sister lives physically next door to our mother, which I know makes it awkward, right? She can't invite me to her house if she doesn't want our mother, you know, to, to be involved.

it's. And it's the complete [:

So it's been. Awkward.

Kate Brody: Yeah. And it's, I guess I'm, I'm, I'm struck all the time by how unnecessary a lot of the pain involved in these, you know, feels in these stories. I was even, I was talking to someone who asked about my kids, like, well, how will you introduce the idea of, you know, your brother, this uncle, your kids aren't familiar with.

And I was like, kids are so easy. it's like when they fall, if you, if you scream and make a big scene about it, they start crying. But if you're like, Hey, you're okay, you know, hop up. They're fine. So if you're like, Hey, by the way, and you say it like, this is kind of a cool fact. I have a brother who lives in Texas.

They just incorporate it [:

There's another world where it was introduced as kind of a neutral or a positive thing. and instead we're still undoing all of that, I think. We're still kind of unpacking all of that. that happens with a lot of families.

Kendall Stulce: it does. And, Did your mother always know that, that the son was out there?

Kate Brody: Yeah, she knew, um, it was very early in their relationship that he found out that this, um, other woman was pregnant. And I think he thought it was going to be a breakup, and then it wasn't. the timeline is kind of mind boggling, but, yeah, she knew. I mean, I, I think we still don't see eye to eye on it.

[:

Kendall Stulce: So, wow. she doesn't have any desire to meet him or be involved with

Kate Brody: she said she would talk to him if he was interested, I think my question is always like, how are all of the adults involved? Not prioritizing the, welfare of the child, because it just feels like so many of the conversations just seem.

So concerned with the well being of the adults, and I think when I was a kid, I thought, oh, this will make more sense to me when I get older. And as I've gotten older, it makes even less sense to me, you know, now that I have kids and I think. I don't know. I mean, I try to be as generous as I can with everybody.

ds and, you know, like a lot [:

coming from a, 2024 lens. and I live in LA, so people have all kinds of like. Very diverse family structures here, and there's not a lot of stigma attached to having children in wedlock, out of wedlock, whatever. I try to be mindful of that, but it has created this kind of dissonance, I think, where we can't quite come at it from the same perspective, because I just don't get it.

I just, um, am coming too much from, like, where I am. Mm

nows that there was stigma in:

when can I stop being the dirty little secret? You know what I mean? Like, it just feels weird, especially since my mother has. Children and grandchildren who've had children out of, out of wedlock. You know what I'm saying? Like it just, I just can't understand, but maybe I never will.

Uh, that's okay. to your point, I I feel like this is a continual journey. It's been six years since I found my family. And I feel finally like, I feel like it's each day goes, I'm Able to give her more grace. I've never had resentment about my birth, my adoption, any of that, because she had no control.

about. Her is that it's been [:

That's it. So I'm finally getting okay with it. I wasn't. And I hope your brother, you know, is okay with everything, you

Kate Brody: Yeah, I think he had a similar, I mean, when we spoke, he said it's taken him a while to get to a place where he realizes that it wasn't about him, it wasn't, which is, it's obvious, right? That seems obvious from the outside. You, it's not like somebody looked and was like, this particular baby is bad, but when you're a kid, everything feels like it's about you, right?

spects of our. Like intimate [:

It's just hard not to internalize that kind of thing. he said it did take him a while to get to that place where he's like, it had to do with whatever everyone else was dealing with. and wasn't about me,

Kendall Stulce: Do you know what he was told when he was a child about his father?

Kate Brody: I think he was aware. that my dad was alive and out there. It's very confusing. I guess I still don't have the full picture. My mom was under the impression that my dad was seeing him on an annual basis, but that was not the case. So, I don't know if there were different stories being told, but Ryan only met him the once that he can remember anyway, right around when I was told about him.

So, right before my dad died, which is also kind of,

Kendall Stulce: Mm hmm.[:

Kate Brody: A mindfuck like, oh, here's my dad and now he's dead. So it's like a lot of information at one time. It was interesting talking to him too. I was, I guess, concerned about not wanting to like pour salt in the wounds. Cause it's such a strange thing where I was born so shortly after him.

And was like an intentional pregnancy.

Kendall Stulce: Mm hmm.

Kate Brody: talking to him, I kept thinking it would be easier to say like, yeah, he was a piece of shit dad. Like he was just the worst, but he wasn't, he was a great dad to us. that has been the hardest part for me is like reconciling in his absence, not being able to talk to him adult to adult.

en people are alive, you can [:

And then after they die, you really want to pin down, like, who is this person? What is the story we tell about them? And that has been hard with my dad, because he lived with all these secrets and left all this mess behind. So, it's very hard to, come up with one monolithic narrative about who he was as a person.

And so, Teddy, the character in Rabbit Hole, also is grappling with something similar with her dad, where all the posthumous information threatens to kind of overshadow her memories of him.

Kendall Stulce: you just drew a parallel to my mother's daughter, Stephanie. She's the one that I'm so close to. And she tells me the same thing that, you know, when I ask her questions about what it was like to grow up in. My mother's family, maybe it is guilt. Maybe it's like, Oh, you know, but it sounds like it was great.

y have a wonderful marriage. [:

You know what I mean? So that's heartwarming that they kind of understand enough about me. Um, to embrace my story and, you know, every one of them has said, Oh my gosh, I wish we could have met your parents because my adopted parents have been gone for a long time. these conversations are so interesting, to have and I will say my biological father's.

ex wife who's the mother of my local half brother and half sister. I mean, she can't be better to me. She's like sweet. And, you know, we went to her family's, Christmas party. You know what I mean? Like, it's just, we feel like accepted, you know, it's great. It's what I was hoping for,

Kate Brody: Yeah.

Kendall Stulce: with [:

Kate Brody: And I think it, it is a gift for that side too, right? Like it's such a nicer way to live to just be like, this is Kendall. He's part of the family. He's coming to our party and not spend all this energy with the shame and the secret keeping and the like, you know, suspicion and keeping people out. So, there's a lot of things about the culture out here.

In LA that I don't love and the like, kind of like woo woo stuff. But I do think that's something that a lot of people get right is the way that you just come from a position of like, yes, we'll include this person. Yes. Your ex husband's new girlfriend's son. It's part of the family, like just what's the harm in, opening your arms to people.

d by that kind of, attitude. [:

Kendall Stulce: to your point, this wasn't the first time that we've gone to my ex stepmother's Christmas party, but, even the first time we went, when we first moved here, like I walked into the room and these are my half siblings, cousins, they're no relation to me. And they were like walking up saying, Hey, we have another cousin.

And it just made, it just warmed my heart. You know, I'm like, this is crazy and unreal. And it, felt surreal. but it was. It was wonderful. And I've always had great relationships with my adoptive parents, you know, the cousins on either side of that family. But it was just, um, nice to be also, you know, included there.

it was like, [:

Kate Brody: that's true.

Kendall Stulce: my adoptive parents died when I was 10 and 16 and I was their only child. So, it's not lost on me it's almost exactly 30 years later that I made the DNA discovery and it's like, you know, so I did, I won't say that I felt alone.

Cause like I said, I had cousins and aunts and uncles and things, but you know, it's. Harder, you know, as, as you're an adult to stay connected to that extended family. And so just, you know, getting to see my father now and my local brother and sister and their kids, and it's just fantastic. I mean, I went from having zero nieces and nephews overnight to having 13 , which was mind blowing as well.

DNA technology, I had tried [:

It became a thing. He was like hopping online, trying to find my birth name. But of course there's nothing out there with that. You know what I mean? Like, yeah, I haven't ever been called Scott White, which is what my birth name was, you know, it's like, he had no hope of finding me. So it was amazing.

I think the way people treat.[:

Even any kind of, like, egg or sperm donation, you have to approach it from a place of openness to some kind of future relationship, because even if that's not your prerogative, it could be your siblings or their kids or your, you know, there's just so many entry points with DNA.

So I think it does, at least put an end to that kind of, like, 1 sided. Rejection of any relationship because it just it's just so unrealistic at this point.

Kendall Stulce: Right. Yeah. I remember when I first spoke to my father and my brother warned me when Chris told me that he had submitted his DNA, he's like, my father always worried. That I would feel rejected and feel it so strongly that I would be angry and you know, that sort of thing.

t I'd want to, you know, you [:

But you know, it was just comical. I also, at that point in time knew that my dad was only 16 when I was born. So both sets, yeah, both sets of grandparents were against, you know, them trying to keep this baby, And it's funny, people will often say to me, well, aren't you angry with your, you know, eat both sets of grandparents because they didn't want to keep you.

And I'm like, no, I don't a, who am I to judge? I've never, I've never been a parent and I've definitely never been a grandparent. And I can't imagine, you know, how difficult that is, you know, thinking, Oh, well, you know, will we be stuck raising this kid, you know, this kid? Um, because the other, the. You know, my dad and mom are so young.

ldn't want to, you know what [:

My adoptive parents, child in so many ways, I mean, it's just shocking, you know, um, and you know, from politically to, you know, it's, it's things that, um, my upbringing, you know, have, have, have brought to light. So,

Kate Brody: That's fascinating

Kendall Stulce: well, yeah, yeah. so it sounds like your sisters are also in contact with your, uh, brother.

Kate Brody: Very lightly I think not not to the same extent

Kendall Stulce: Mm.[:

Kate Brody: Yeah, I think they we sort of all feel the same way which is that

You know, we'll follow his lead and I I just have been kind of blown away by his graciousness and how, thoughtful he's been and, reflective and understanding. I think, I wasn't worried he was going to kick my ass, but I did kind of think he would be angry with us for participating in this whole thing.

You know, saga, to the extent that we did as kids, but, no, he's really lovely. He said something like, I heard you had a rough couple of years, a few years ago, alluding to a different family matter. And he was like, I wish I could have, uh, been there to help out, which I thought was so lovely.

eally can't overestimate the [:

Like, you really, it's almost scary how much power you have as a parent with children, because their desire to be in communion with you is so strong. I think about him a lot now just looking at my own kids and thinking about what that experience must have been like for him, kind of searching for that connection and just having it fail to return.

Kendall Stulce: if he feels like I feel about my biological family, he probably just loves the idea of having three sisters. You know what I mean? Like he just, having been raised an only child, always wishing my parents had, you know, had a second child they weren't.

dren, but I always was like, [:

And she's also very excited that I found my biological family, but there is something really cool about having the biological connection there just is. And I never knew how that was going to feel. You know what I mean? Like until the day I found my brother on Ancestry, you know, I, it just, it was truly magical.

gether, when Chris and I are [:

It's a revelation for me really is seeing all those things and it does help you feel like you where you fit in the world. Right? I mean, it's, it's hard to explain, uh, for, you know, when somebody hasn't been adopted, you know what I mean? Like it's, it's hard to explain it, but, I often joke about the story when my parents were, had adopted me and we would be in town and they would run across friends that they hadn't seen, you know, in several years and now this is our son, Kendall and people. Almost always, Oh my gosh. Yeah. I see the similarity, you know, and even as a toddler, I was just a smart ass and [00:26:00] I'd be like, Oh, that's cute. And sweet. That's not real. Cause I don't look anything like these people, you know, and, and it, you know, and they'd all get a kick out of it because my mother would be like, Oh, I should have mentioned, you know, he's adopted and he's very vocal about it.

none of us looked alike, like my mother didn't look like my father or my father, I didn't look like either of them. We just were this cute little hodgepodge family, you know, stuck together, but it was fantastic.

Kate Brody: but that's, I think, people wanting to see you as, as part of a whole, you know, so it's like, I know I've done that with, friends who have adopted siblings or something where I'm like, oh, yeah, and then they're like, no, we're not really, we're not biologically related, um, but you do have a desire to like, kind of find like, what, what, you know, let me find the thing that, that ties them together.

me as, as the child to say, [:

You know what I mean? my mom would be like, well, you don't look like me, but that's okay. You know, it's okay. You know?

Kate Brody: Yeah.

Kendall Stulce: I hear now so many people's stories of people who were adopted and how their families, in my opinion, did not handle things right.

And I am so, so fortunate that I feel like my parents did. Almost everything, right? I think from the fact that I don't ever remember not knowing that I was adopted, you know what I mean? Like just from the time I was born and I mean, they couldn't have hidden it. I mean, we've lived in a town that was about as big as the room I'm sitting in.

everybody knew everybody's business. I would have found out in, you know, three minutes, when I could start hearing stories.

d this affinity for them. Of [:

Like that's, that's what I'm thinking, you know, like I would never say it, but it's like, wow, you know, like, yeah. Or, or, you know, the, the poor people who have been lied to all their lives, you know, like, like the father is the biological father and, you know, they don't, they've always known and kept these secrets.

And, for Corey and me, it's really about not having these, you know, Let's just convince everybody not to have these secrets, you know, just remove the shame, you know, and, uh, yeah, let the people embrace their themselves, you know, which I can only hope for your brother, you

it better now with adoption. [:

Anyway, yeah, I hope things get to a place where we find some kind of new. Balance I think that when I wrote the book to everything I write is about. Siblings and sisters, those relationships have been Like the bedrock of my entire life , my dad died when I was in high school and then my mom, um, had just a long period of addiction where she was kind of MIA.

also not having any of that, [:

I think the reason I'm drawn to it so much in fiction is those relationships are so different than any other relationship you have. Like, they just are built on this combination of like, Genetic similarity and just kind of this weird intuitive understanding of one another.

nship would be on the day to [:

Yeah. It's its own thing or my other, which is also different, you know, they're different even between them. But, um, yeah, I'm curious about it. I think that like nature nurture piece says some fascinating.

Kendall Stulce: for sure. For sure. And I feel so fortunate. my sister Stephanie, just recently, we live about 80 miles from Boston and, um, my sister just took a traveling nurse position in Boston, so she is temporarily here or close ish. last weekend, her husband and son, uh, were here, we got to have dim sum with them and this coming weekend, she's going to come and spend the weekend with Corey and me.

h them is just precious, you [:

Kate Brody: really nice.

Kendall Stulce: it's, it's fantastic and, you know, I always knew , when I love somebody, I love them a lot, you know, so like, I knew that when I, when I got connected to these people.

People, I was going to, you know, be all in and I am, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I, you know, I could be damaged really quickly by people because I, you know, I'm just, um, silly enough to say, you know, everybody's great. Especially at the beginning. Right. And, uh, it really has been great. I mean, I'm so, so fortunate to have the siblings that I have.

And, and at least my father, I don't know much about my mother, but my dad is just great. And, uh, very different than my adoptive parents, but, just a free spirit, guy. And we just laugh the whole time we're together. So it's just fantastic. but you made me think of something. When you were talking about, the way that things have changed, it's funny.

I hadn't thought [:

And I was only two months. So obviously it wasn't necessarily that they were trying to get me, but you know, if they were trying to get a baby and even their attorney who was their really good friend, he was like, do you, you know, how are you going to handle this? There was enough stigma still around adoption that he was like, are you guys going to move away so that you can raise Kendall, you know, secretly as yours?

they thought that would be. [:

They'd be like, really shut up and go live your lives. We're going to do our thing. You know what I mean? Like we're gonna, we're going to have this kid and we're going to, and you're going to like it and you're going to shut up if you don't. it just makes me happy because, what if they had taken that advice?

d have been a big surprise in:

You know, I was like, thanks. I'm glad they

Kate Brody: Yeah.

Kendall Stulce: I guess you charged them for that great advice, uh, too, but, um, yeah, that's just. Yeah, Well, uh, are you doing a lot of publicity for the book?

rk, New Jersey, Connecticut, [:

The, essay writing part of it is, is done. The publication of the book sort of forced me to write all of these essays because that is how I process things like I just think better when I'm able to write about them.

publishing that piece in the Guardian and then I published, a personal essay in the Times about my mom and both of those have just led to this outpouring of people's stories and support.

it has been lovely to hear from everybody. And, I feel a little silly that like I've been living all these years thinking that we were doing things so strangely. And, um, and then to hear from all these other families who've been through similar things has been really nice. So unexpected part of book has been connecting not just with readers, but with people who.

sonate with my story in some [:

Kendall Stulce: Mm hmm. Well, I always say that, we can't hear enough of these stories, and I love the, the, the slant that you're taking with the fiction. You obviously when we're, speaking to people on the podcast, we're talking about their real lives, but I'm really intrigued about how, you know, similar, uh, fictional characters, uh, situations can be to ours,

And we'd like to connect again, to see if, something changes in your own story, you know, where maybe there's some shift, it sounds like you guys are already on a great path, in my opinion, but you know, it's, it's always unfolding.

Right.

Kate Brody: always, always changing.

spending time with me today.[:

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