A MUSIC I NO LONGER HEARD

THE EARLY DEATH OF A PARENT

A Studs Terkellike approach—brief, topically organized excerpts from many interviews—on the experience of losing a parent as a child or adolescent. Simon (Women's Studies/City College of San Francisco) and Drantell (a San Franciscobased writer and book editor) are best here in an introductory chapter and ``coda'' that relate reactions to their own childhood and adolescent losses (Simon, a father at age 17; Drantell, a mother at age 11) and emotional journeys in compiling the material for this book. Their 70 interviewees cover an impressive cross-cultural and inter-generational range, and yield some fascinating insights about how not only the subjects, but also the surviving parent, siblings, other relatives, peers, and neighbors, reacted to such a cataclysmic loss. For example, a 61-year-old man who lost his mother and father two years apart in the early 1950s recalls, ``There was no discussion of grieving. . . . I was just a working-class kid. We didn't talk, we stuffed it in.'' Conversely, other interviewees, particularly those who came of age after about 1965, feel that the experience of early parental loss could be talked about, and also that it matured and deepened them emotionally; as one woman in her 30s put it, her father's death when she was 11 ``made me more open to life, made me want to take it on more fully. Because you touch something that's in the marrow. You cut through a lot of superficiality and are more sensitive to things.'' In general, however, the panoramic approach that Terkel applied to sweeping historical events such as the Depression and WW II doesn't work as well for an experience as highly personal as a parent's death. Here, the reader needs to be introduced to both the deceased parent and the interviewee in greater depth than the several short excerpts from a far longer interview provided here. (The reader also learns only about the interviewees' first name, current age, and age when they lost a parent; inexplicably, only those who are writers or otherwise artists are identified by their profession or vocation.) In addition, the authors see fit to provide brief general comments as an introduction to each topical subsection; unfortunately, their words are rarely illuminating and at times hackneyed (e.g., ``As grown-up orphans, if we know one thing, we know death is inevitable. At different times in our lives, we experience the inevitability differently''). Largely because of its methodology, Simon and Drantell's mosaic oral history ultimately lacks sufficient reflective or imaginative depth and emotional force. However, it should prove comforting and perhaps helpful to those who have lost, or are about to lose, a parent in childhood or adolescence, as well as to their immediate relatives.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-81319-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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