THE CHIEF: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons by Lance Morrow

THE CHIEF: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Morrow, a writer for Time, is the son of Hugh Morrow, a wry, skeptical journalist who became Nelson Rockefeller's longtime press-secretary; Lance had an odd Washington, D.C. childhood, with an often-absent father and an unstable mother; later years brought the parents' divorce, the tragic death of a 17-year-old brother, mild father-son estrangement, and a serious heart-attack for Lance at 36. So here, in a highly polished yet only half-satisfying memoir, Morrow roams through all these memories--while also straining to find father/son resonance in nearly everything he relates. After a prologue that establishes the uneasy father-son relationship, full of unexpressed longing, Morrow goes back to fill in family-history (Pennsylvania, upper-middle-class); he sketches in his parents' quasi-shotgun marriage, their 1940s glamour as busy young Washington journalists, his childhood yearning to share their ""mythic nimbus""--impossible in a household where ""emotions were sidelong and somehow wounded."" As a teenager Morrow became a Senate page, ""permitted to witness history up close, mixed with farts and gin."" (Some diverting glimpses of Bobby Baker, Henry Jackson.) He followed his self-dramatizing mother into Catholic conversion, with Jesuit schooling: ""I was looking for my father there, in larger and more reverberant form."" Then came the divorce, Morrow's break with Catholicism (perhaps ""the principle of my father in me overcame the principle of my mother""), Harvard, the cancer death of young brother Mike (tended, movingly, by father Hugh), and Morrow's own journalism career--climaxed by his heart-attack at the '76 Republican convention. (""I had usurped one of the ceremonies of fatherhood."") And finally Morrow, now himself a father, discusses his father's relationship with generous yet ""ominous"" Rocky: ""I felt shamed by the imperious control that Rockefeller exercised upon him. . . I believe that Rockefeller was my father's father, in some sense. . ."" There are touching sequences here, a few telling anecdotes, some tidbits on Rocky's death. Morrow's prose, though sometimes self-conscious and stagey, is often leanly evocative. As a narrative, however, this memoir suffers from Morrow's essayist impulse: the family-story, interrupted for digressions in pursuit of more father-son parallels, lacks shape and momentum--while the central relationships (especially those involving Morrow's mother) remain fuzzy, loose-ended. Undistinguished as an exploration of the father/son tie, then, but intermittently absorbing as a collage of family vignettes.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Random House