The founder of Lear's magazine and ex-wife of producer Norman Lear tells all and then some in a disturbing memoir that is searingly frank—though infuriatingly sketchy on biographical detail. Born in 1923 to an unmarried teenage mother in Hudson, N.Y., Lear was adopted by Herb and Aline Loeb. Aline was vain and deeply self-absorbed; Herb killed himself when Lear was ten. Sent as a teenager to a psychiatrist, Lear described how her new stepfather had been sexually abusing her for years. The psychiatrist told her mother and stepfather, her mother sided with the abuser, and Lear left home for good. Two failed marriages, retailing jobs in N.Y.C., and a succession of men followed. In 1956, at age 34, Lear moved to L.A. and married Norman Lear. As a character, the famed TV producer is almost completely absent here, although an abstract meditation on infidelity in Hollywood reads as a veiled reference to an unhappy marriage. Frances Lear went on to raise two daughters, divorce, and begin her magazine—all while battling manic- depressive illness. No subject is taboo here: Lear describes lesbian affairs, a stint in a mental institution, sex with her therapist, a dependence on marijuana, and difficult and needy relationships with men. Her deepest probings are of the depressive cycles of her illness and her suicidal urges. But while her full- tilt pursuit of the uncomfortable, the painful, and the unsavory may be admirable, Lear's eschewal of chronology, context, or any acknowledgement of her obviously considerable strengths detracts from her memoir's accessibility. In all: an autobiography of abundant courage but only middling insight.
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