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A Memoir

by Anne Fadiman

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-374-22808-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Fadiman (At Large and at Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist, 2008, etc.) decants a harmonious blend of biography, wine lore, and memoir in this account of a literary daughter's relationship with her celebrated literary father.

Born into a secular Jewish family in Brooklyn, Clifton Fadiman (1904-1999) spent his adult life submerging that identity beneath WASP sensibilities and pursuits. His belief that Jewishness was a cultural and career impediment and his envy of WASP privilege were powerful motivators to escape his origins, in the 1930s and beyond. As revealed by his daughter, Fadiman's was almost entirely a life of the mind. Physically clumsy, he was unacquainted with much of life beyond its gustatory or literary pleasures. Though thwarted in his desire to become an academic, he emerged as a self-invented, ardent public intellectual of the first rank. Before the age of 30, he had served as editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster and head of the book review section at the New Yorker. His friends and colleagues were a who’s who of celebrated litterateurs of the time, and the gleam of a life in letters was not lost on his daughter. Despite considerable renown, the refined yet self-effacing Fadiman always regarded himself as an outsider and, in darker moments, even an impostor. The author's mother, by contrast, was of mixed Presbyterian and Mormon stock, an accomplished journalist and screenwriter who relinquished her career to marriage. Anne Fadiman, writer-in-residence at Yale and winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award, grew up in a prosperous, secular, decidedly rational household. Always there were books and a civilizing force embodied by wine, a taste for which she did not share. In limning her father, Fadiman also lays a gradual accretion of detail about herself, but she is careful never to eclipse his (regrettably) diminished star.

Reading this daughter's graceful, often melodious billet-doux to her father is not unlike imbibing several equally felicitous glasses of wine, their salutary effects leaving one pleasantly sated.