WHAT WE HAD by James Chace


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Allusive, broody jottings on a spent youth--from a former editor of Foreign Affairs and The New York Times Book Review. Chace (Solvency, Endless War, etc.) came of age in Fall River, Mass., during the 1930's and 1940's. At the time, the author's family, like his home town (a moribund textiles center reprieved by WW II orders), was in decline. Chace's paternal grandfather had been president of the Bay State's Senate, and other forebears were prominent mill executives or sea captains. His father, though, was a bibulous ne'er-do-well whose working-class wife let him drift through the years like a New England Micawber. The Chace clan's anchor to windward was an aunt who, thanks to having married well, was able to provide financial support. She also seems to have arranged for young Chace's tuition to be paid at Harvard, which he entered in 1949. While in Cambridge, the author studied literature, rejected political involvement (a belated reaction to the war), and participated (for pay) in experiments that required ingesting LSD. On a postgraduate fellowship in Paris, he served briefly as a CIA informant. In hopes of breaking from undisclosed dependencies, Chace let himself be drafted during the mid-1950's; the Army returned him to Europe, where he served as an interpreter. Thereafter, the discontinuous narrative affords only occasional glimpses of the author, e.g., becoming a Billie Holiday fan, visiting the grave of his estranged brother in Peru, reconciling with his alcoholic mother, and otherwise getting on with what seems to have been an interesting, productive life. Writing this self-indulgent, intensely personal memoir may well have done Chace a world of good, perhaps even allowing him to exorcise a demon or two. Absent perspectives and reference points, however, there's no earthly reason why other than close friends or fans of unsolved mysteries would want to read it.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1990
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster