by Elizabeth W. Garber ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 12, 2018
An alternately wistful and searing exploration of a troubled legacy.
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A daughter’s vibrant relationship with her father decays into warfare and abuse in this coming-of-age memoir.
As a young girl growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Garber (True Affections, 2011, etc.) thought that her architect father, Woodie, was the most charismatic man in the world; she even took up his interest in modernist design. With her mother, Jo, and two younger brothers, she helped him build his dream house in the Cincinnati suburb of Glendale, Ohio—a sleek, rectilinear structure that “shimmered like a white mirage...the crushed glass wall panels sparkling, while the Great Room blazed as if on fire, red, orange, and wood reflected and glowed inside the long glass walls.” In Garber’s warm evocation, the house, complete with Eames furniture, abstract sculptures, and Dave Brubeck records playing on the hi-fi, seems the perfect backdrop for avant-garde family togetherness, circa 1966. But slowly, a gradual accretion of disquieting detail spoils the gleaming facade as she reveals the dark side of her father’s world. Woodie’s ebullience, she writes, was an aspect of his bipolar disorder, which alternated with bouts of depression that kept him in bed for weeks. His compulsion to be the architect of every element of his surroundings extended to his family, whom he tormented with strict rules, constant demands to do heavy landscaping labor, and harangues about alleged laziness and lack of integrity, which grew more caustic as a difficult project frayed his nerves. He felt threatened by Jo’s desire to return to college and her turn toward prison-reform activism, Garber says, and when the white author brought home an African-American boyfriend, her father disapproved. Garber gives a subtle, nerve-wracking account of a familiar generational conflict that tore apart countless families in the ’60s, as fathers found their paternal authority challenged by rebellious daughters, long-haired sons, and wives who wanted more fulfilling roles. In this case, the intensifying confrontation pitted Woodie’s tirades against his family’s muted but mounting defiance. But the author also tells of a far more disturbing aspect of Woodie’s domestic tyranny—his ongoing sexual abuse of the teenage Garber. As the household spirals toward dissolution, Garber paints an indelible portrait of the claustrophobic hell that a dysfunctional family can become and of her own anguish and confusion over Woodie’s abuse, to which she responded with denial. She’s cleareyed in her depiction of his monstrous behavior, but she also portrays the magnetic pull of his personality and his role in shaping her own sensibility. She also acknowledges the irony of an iconoclastic modernist's not being able to cope with modernity. In prose that’s simultaneously poetic and incisive, she even finds the frail humanity behind her father’s power plays and mood swings; “Crying out, he was small and pitiful, like a statue of a dictator pulled down by peasants,” she writes of Woodie's collapsing from a heart fibrillation. Many readers will see aspects of their own family histories in this powerful saga of trauma and healing.An alternately wistful and searing exploration of a troubled legacy.
Pub Date: June 12, 2018
Page Count: 360
Publisher: She Writes Press
Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...
Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children.
He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions.
Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006
Page Count: 120
Publisher: Hill & Wang
Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006
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Well-told and admonitory.
Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.
Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.Well-told and admonitory.
Pub Date: June 1, 2006
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006
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