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An unsparing, intimate reflection on the many ways money—or the lack thereof—can tear a family apart.

A frank memoir of money and the man.

Culture critic Siegel (Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence, 2015, etc.) incisively explores his modest New Jersey upbringing, exposing more deeply the personal history he shared in a June 2015 New York Times op-ed piece, in which he confessed to defaulting on his student loans. Reaching back to his pre-college struggles, the author recounts the bleak tale of his youth, growing up a budding intellectual drawn to writing amid a dysfunctional domestic scene. Siegel’s graceful opening description of the full moon shining like an “incandescent coin” subtly introduces the central role money played in the cataclysmic decline of the relationship between his failed jazz pianist father and unstable, “aspiring actress” mother, whom the author sees as driven together and, finally, apart by their “mutual vulnerability.” The title refers to the arrangement his father made with the real estate firm who employed him as an agent, whereby he was advanced a weekly salary against future commissions with the understanding it would be paid back. However, the more he “depended on the Draw to live, the more it shrank his life”—to the point that, when sales didn’t materialize, he eventually amassed a huge debt, which led to his firing, divorce, and having to declare bankruptcy while Siegel was in college. Thrust into ever more dire financial circumstances by his father and psychologically tortured by his mother, who “seemed to live for bitter emotional combat with everyone around her,” the author repeatedly endured humiliation in an attempt to support himself and get an education. Beautifully portraying his resulting masochistic “dedication to suffering” as akin to a “Buddhist monk on fire,” Siegel doesn’t hold back in baring his emotional scars. Though filled with moving introspection and insight, especially into the intangible ravages of poverty, the book may leave some readers wanting: if not for forgiveness or acceptance of the parental inadequacies he admirably bested, then at least the balm of forgetting.

An unsparing, intimate reflection on the many ways money—or the lack thereof—can tear a family apart.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-17805-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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