OUT OF BABYLON by Richard Grossinger


Ghosts of Grossinger's
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 Grossinger (The Night Sky, 1981; Embryogenesis, 1985), an anthropologist by training, a cultural rebel by inclination, and supposed heir apparent to the great, eponymous Catskill resort by birth, presents an intense, personal story in the form of a ``nonfiction novel.'' (He is also the publisher of offbeat material, including this text.) Here's the first line of his coming-of-age memoir: ``The summer after he revealed himself to be my father, Uncle Paul arranged for me to visit him at Grossinger's.'' That revelation- -which was not necessarily true--is part of life as the scion of a truly dysfunctional family, at one time the Royal Family of the Borscht Belt. There is, perforce, a quick history of the rise and fall of the Versailles in the Catskills as the hotel gained land, lakes, and tummelers only to eventually lose everything. But there is more brooding angst and self-absorption in what evolves into the writer's ``vision-quest'' for a father, spiritual as well as genetic. Grossinger seems to have remembered or imagined every painful or instructive discourse in his life. He recounts old dreams, lists every college course in which he enrolled, and enumerates the courses he taught. Then there's the tarot, tai chi, and homeopathic studies; the poets and baseball heroes; the shamans and Edgar Cayce; the UFOs and monuments on Mars. There's a mean mother and a painfully troubled brother. Also recalled are multiple fathers and a phalanx of counterculture colleagues. Sometimes it seems like a conflation of I.B. Singer and Dickens. Often it sounds like a transcript from an analyst's couch. This isn't the memoir, full of schmaltz and rye bread, one might expect from the grandson of Jennie Grossinger. Still, it is a well-written personal story, ultimately sad and disquieting because it rings true. (illustrations) (Author tour; radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1997
ISBN: 1-883319-57-9
Page count: 584pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997