Merrell, Susan Scarf

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Merrell, Susan Scarf


Born in Palo Alto, CA; married Jake Merrell (an architect); children: Maggie, Jake. Education: Cornell University, B.A.


Home—Sag Harbor, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, Inc., 10 E. 53rd St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022.


Writer and journalist, 1990—.


The Accidental Bond: The Power of Sibling Relationships, Times Books (New York, NY), 1995.

A Member of the Family (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.


Both of Susan Scarf Merrell's books deal with family dynamics and the power of children to strengthen or disrupt the family bond. Merrell's nonfiction work The Accidental Bond: The Power of Sibling Relationships draws upon extensive research and the author's interviews with adult siblings to challenge the idea that brothers and sisters show more similarity in their social behavior, psychological outlook, and general personality, than people who are not related at all. Merrell calls the relationship between siblings an "accidental bond" because it grows from the circumstance of their being born into the same family unit—but not into the same family, as the family dynamic changes entirely each time a new child is born. In her New Republic review of the book, Mary-Lou Weisman called The Accidental Bond "thoughtful" and added that Merrell has written "a rich source of fascinating material about the complex realities of siblinghood and a valuable commentary on the impact that these little-studied relationships have upon our lives."

In her debut novel, A Member of the Family, Merrell tackles the harrowing subject of psychological damage inflicted upon an infant. Dentist Chris Latham and his wife Deborah adopt an eighteen-month-old orphan who has been neglected and malnourished in a Romanian orphanage and bring him home to live with their older daughter on Long Island. From the time he can toddle and speak, Michael wreaks havoc in the household and beyond, attacking other children and his sister and failing to respond to a wide variety of therapies and support groups. Eventually, with their family life in tatters, Chris and Deborah must decide whether they can continue to live with the violent child or relinquish him. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the work as an "earnest … novel of family secrets and strained relations." Beth Gibbs in Library Journal found the book "heart-wrenching" and "provocative," noting that it would make readers ponder "the responsibilities of parenting."



Library Journal, February 1, 2000, Beth Gibbs, review of A Member of the Family, p. 118.

New Republic, March 18, 1996, Mary-Lou Weisman, "All in the Family," p. 44.

New York Times, April 20, 1997, Linda Tagliaferro, "Lifelong Ties Bind and Unbind Siblings," p. 2.

Publishers Weekly, January 10, 2000, review of A Member of the Family, p. 42.