During the two decades before her death in 1983, West worked ""on and off"" on this uncompleted family history of her...


FAMILY MEMORIES: An Autobiographical Journey

During the two decades before her death in 1983, West worked ""on and off"" on this uncompleted family history of her maternal and paternal forebears, and the family of her husband, Henry Maxwell Andrews (here the chapter-length account of Andrews' youth comprises the Appendix). In these stories of family members whose personas West has vivified (and quite possibly exotically skewed), West points up her own passionate life-long preoccupations: the inner turmoil of women fettered by male oppression yet magnetized by need and attraction; hypocrisy and conventional unwisdom; the evils of betrayal. In her shrewdly illuminating introduction, editor Faith Evans describes this family history as ""more like a sequence of inter-related novellas than a verifiable history. . .only acceptable within its own terms."" Certainly the story of West's mother, Isabella, almost immediately takes on the outsize dramatic vigor of West's fictional protagonists, as West re-creates the talented, lively difficult household of widowed, straight-spined Grandmother Janet, who supports a brood of seven (including two girls simply sloughed off by a departing male cousin). The disintegration of Janet's robust household through deaths, defections, illness, and Janet's (to Isabella) obeisance to the double standard leads eventually to Isabella's being sent to Australia on the trail of a missing brother. There, amid scenery eerie and lovely (West had never visited Australia), Isabella meets brother and future husband while innkeepers provide a kind of earthy, comic chorus. West is ambivalent about her father's failures, his wandering eye, his betrayal (he left home forever when she was eight); yet she remembers his wit and charm, assumes he loved her. There are vignettes of West as family member (one wicked sister, one saintly), and there are notes about her life in music, a Mackenzie vocation. Throughout, there are fountainhead glimpses of a range of passions that propel the people of her autobiographical fiction (the Cousin Rosamund trilogy), again in surroundings rich and extravagant in particularities of time and custom. More than a family history--rather, an autobiographical journey of burning engagement.

Pub Date: April 1, 1988


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1988