MESSAGES FROM MY FATHER by Calvin Trillin

MESSAGES FROM MY FATHER

A Memoir
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The renowned humorist fashions an affectionate portrait of his father that muses on the elliptical methods by which men raise sons and by which sons strive to please fathers. Trillin likens his father's ``messages''--indirect signals combining expectation, assumption, and wish--to a secret code. Their meanings were ambiguous to young Calvin. No fan of heart-to- hearts, Abe Trillin's most direct advice was the low-key dictum ``You might as well be a mensch.'' By turns a grocer, restaurateur, hotelkeeper, and real estate developer, Abe was indeed a mensch--a person who always does the right thing--and it's clear his messages and example transmitted a powerful moral code his son still follows. Legendarily stubborn, thrifty, and opinionated, the Russian immigrant earned a reputation for taciturnity but also possessed American optimism and a comic sense that mixed Yiddish humor with a midwesterner's self-deprecating ingenuousness. He was a man of many theories: on butchers, gin strategy, and women's dental fitness (good teeth are the key to a happy marriage), and a connoisseur of curses. Calvin's well-documented love of doggerel finds an antecedent in the verses Abe penned for the menu of his Kansas City restaurant: ``Don't sigh/eat pie.'' The writer obviously relishes Abe as card and character, but it's an amusement tempered by sobering loss at Abe's death, and by a sense of awe (heightened by his own experience with parenthood) that his father managed to pass on as much as he did. Of Abe's typically oblique support of writing as a possible vocation, Trillin wryly muses: ``Would that be how you'd steer your son toward journalism--slip the word to him casually when he's three years old and then make sure he knows how to type?'' With characteristic grace and good humor, Trillin crafts a charming, heartfelt memorial to his father that is also a loving demonstration of how deeply he took his father's advice to heart. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-374-20860-3
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1996




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