In this debut memoir, novelist Weber (True Confections, 2009, etc.) tells the story of her colorful family and the scandalous—but monumentally transformative—love affair between her grandmother, Kay Swift and George Gershwin.
“Growing up, I missed George Gershwin without ever knowing him, because two people I loved, my mother and grandmother, loved him and missed him,” writes the author. Swift was the Protestant wife of James Paul Warburg, scion of a distinguished Jewish family of bankers. A gifted musician, she knew brief success as the songwriter for the 1930 smash Broadway hit, “Fine and Dandy.” But where she earned her greatest notoriety was as Gershwin’s longtime lover and most ardent defender of the Gershwin musical legacy. The book often reads like a who’s who of the New York high society that Andrea Swift Warburg, Swift’s gentle, but tragically child-like daughter, eschewed through marriage. Warburg’s husband, Sidney Kaufman, was a social-climbing womanizer whose primary allure was a passing resemblance to Gershwin. “Born in the back of a grocery store in Brooklyn to immigrant parents,” his sole claim to fame was as the purveyor of Aromarama, a technique that wed film scenes to odors. As Weber acerbically remarks, “Most of my father’s movie career took place at the intersection of making it and making it up.” The book is strongest in its rich details of a dazzling but painful family past fraught with betrayals, infidelities and other assorted dysfunctions, including—in the figure of art historian Aby Warburg—mental illness. However, Weber is overly reliant on historical narrative to convey a very personal recollection, which creates an unintentionally brittle objectivity that makes it difficult for readers to connect with either Weber or her account, except at a distance.
Illuminating but often dry.