by Ian Frazier ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 28, 1994
The grand sweep of American history is writ small in this family history/memoir by humorist Frazier (Great Plains, 1989, etc.). Frazier undertook this effort after his parents died in the late 1980s, to ""find a meaning that would defeat death."" But his project seems more complicated and self-conscious, if not pretentious: an attempt to somehow reclaim American history for himself, a white Protestant. His preoccupation with his own religious doubt, contrasted with the firm faith of his ancestors -- whether German Reformed, Old School Presbyterian, or, like his great-great-grandfather Simeon Frazier, a member of the antiauthoritarian Disciples of Christ -- culminates in a strange, reductionist review of American history as an expression of the decline of Protestant faith. More broadly, Frazier shares indiscriminately with us every detail he has been able to root out: from the momentous (the arrival of Thomas Benedict on these shores in 1638 and his descendant Platt Benedict's founding of Norwalk, Ohio) to the trivial (his great-great-uncle Charles's first attempt at fly-fishing and his grandmother's showing family pictures to Tennessee Williams in Key West). The quantity of information that could have rendered full-blooded portraits of long-ago generations is lacking; the lengthy catalogs often offered (trite entries from a great-grandfather's school diary, quotations from his parents' rather ordinary love letters) seem like fillers. The histories of the Fraziers, Wickhams, Benedicts, and Hurshes do follow the outlines of American history: the push west (all his relatives ended up in Ohio); the Civil War (Norwalk was a stop on the underground railroad); industrialization (his father became a chemist for Sohio). But Frazier's prose is flat as a prairie and his humor dry as stone. Only at the end, in interviews with two colorful relatives, and with the description of the deaths of his teenage brother Fritz from leukemia and of his parents, does the tale reach emotional heights. An object lesson in the pitfalls of writing a family history for anyone other than your family.
Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1994
Page Count: 400
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994
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