Great parenting advice for raising well-adjusted kids, but not nuanced enough for a diverse audience.


Family Entanglement


Toronto (co-author Psychoanalytic Reflections on a Gender-free Case, 2005), a clinical psychologist from the University of Michigan, affirms, with contributions from her psychologist husband, that both adults and children, even from infancy, ought to be recognized as individuals and active participants in the family relationship.

Despite Toronto’s professional background, this heartfelt autobiography of a mother’s challenges and choices in raising her four sons struggles in its mission to also function as a modern-parenting guidebook. She presents a seesaw paradigm of the parent-child relationship, which understands the core equality of parent and child and allows each to lead, follow and have needs met in a harmonious whole, replacing the cultural default of an up-down model where parents give and lead, and children receive and follow. She supports this with stories showing how much she appreciated her boys’ individual gifts from an early age, often nearly bragging about their accomplishments and good moral nature. Her now-adult sons also discuss their own upbringing, which they do with unmitigated warmth as well as family photos. Toronto’s insight that connected families have a cultural currency—for her family, it’s thinking "positively" about who you are, but it could be music, cooking or any shared activity—is useful in thinking about household dynamics and what happens when a child might not naturally fit into that shared experience. Her endorsement of the family meeting as a regular method of communication, in which each person gets equal opportunity to speak, is similarly a valuable model for maintaining a less top-down model of parenting. After all, everyone should be heard, she says. But ultimately, this good-natured, old-fashioned, grandmotherly storytelling comes mostly from focusing on one’s own choices and experiences, not guidance from a clinical psychologist based on deep comprehension of 21st-century family complexities. Peppered with family photos and common-sense advice, it’s more personal than professional.

Great parenting advice for raising well-adjusted kids, but not nuanced enough for a diverse audience.

Pub Date: March 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-1479397587

Page Count: 276

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2013

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.


Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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