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When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home, and Life Was a Catch-22

by Erica Heller

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9768-4
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A daughter’s loving tribute to her famous father and the iconic Manhattan apartment building that housed their family’s joys and sorrows.

Copywriter Heller’s (Splinters, 1991, etc.) family memoir brims with warm reflections right from the opening chapters, in which she describes the genesis of her parents’ fiery, robust marriage abetted by the author’s persistent grandparents. Together, they not only prevented Heller’s mother Shirley from succumbing to her premarital “crumbling courage,” but, in 1952, they also secured a surprisingly available apartment inside the grand Upper West Side tenement, the Apthorp, where the Hellers would live out the duration of their marriage. Heller notes that her father and his willful mother-in-law might have locked horns more often had they not had the familial bond uniting them, since she’d supported the newlyweds early on in their marriage until the author was born. The author sprinkles intermittent snapshots throughout the book, as she offers a succession of anecdotes and memories of summers on Long Island with her “inveterate fabulist” Grandma Dottie, family holidays and her father’s friendships with artist Irving Vogel, Mario Puzo and Swedish publisher Per Gedin. She traces his nine-year progression while composing his defining work, Catch-22, “hunt-and-pecking his way to more opulent times,” and reaping the notoriety and upgraded lifestyle the novel and its movie version would bring his family. Heller chronicles the family’s various residences and histrionics inside the Apthorp as it became a much-revered, eccentric celebrity roost, and she is generously candid and evenhanded about the family’s happier days, her father’s later novels and the darkness of her parents’ marital discord and their separate, debilitating illnesses. Closing personal recollections offered by authors Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Christopher Buckley are entertaining, but Heller gets the last word in a surprising disclosure that she has yet to read Catch-22.

An affectionate family scrapbook crafted with a bittersweet blend of humor and pathos.