Chronicles of fame, mishaps, and assorted grievances.
In 1986, Janowitz (They Is Us, 2009, etc.) became “semi-famous,” she writes, with the publication of the story collection Slaves of New York, putting her in the company of the Literary Brat Pack along with Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis. “Here’s what we had in common,” she writes: “the fact that our books were not supposed to become big sellers and were never expected to get any attention, but actually did.” Janowitz continued to publish novels and stories, some made into films; she attended glitzy, star-filled parties and counted among her celebrity friends Joan Rivers (“warm, yet driven to achievement”), Lou Reed (“easy to talk to”), Andy Warhol, with whom she dined a few times a week, and Elizabeth Hardwick, her teacher at Barnard College. Janowitz’s frank, sometimes funny, often repetitious memoir imparts tart literary gossip but focuses mostly on her hardscrabble life: living in poverty with her mother after her parents divorced and, even as a successful writer, always worried about money. Homes included a “former meat locker” in Manhattan, a claustrophobic trailer with no running water, and a crumbling house in upstate New York, which she shared with a bunch of rowdy poodles. The author recounts her unstable, philandering father, a psychiatrist addicted to marijuana who sent her hate letters each time she visited; her sullen teenage daughter; and her mother, whom she moved from one nursing home to another as her dementia worsened and whose decrepit house she spent years cleaning out. After her mother died, her vindictive brother besieged her with angry emails threatening to charge her with embezzlement from their mother’s retirement funds. Fearful, irritating, and needy, the author tends to see the dark side of every experience. She glosses over posh travel assignments, for example, to detail an abortive effort to interview a belligerent hit man.
A tone of whininess undermines the author’s sharp perceptions.