Memoir Short Takes: Fathers at the Fore

Father’s Day has come and gone but this month’s batch of books includes several ruminations on the roles of fathers in modern life and—more importantly—in the lives of these memoirists. There’s a Great Santini-like figure, a gay dad trying to figure it all out, and an angry father brooding post-divorce. Aside from their shared fatherhood, these stories are diverse as the families they come from.

Bucatinsky, Dan. Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?: Confessions of a Gay Dad. Touchstone: S. & S. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781451660739. pap. $14.99. MEMOIR

Producer, writer, and actor Bucatinsky (executive producer, Who Do You Think You Are?) provides a frank and hilarious chronicle of the trials and triumphs of gay fatherhood in his first book. Although he employs decent amount of snark, Bucatinsky addresses heavier issues with sensitivity too—his family’s relationship with his kids’ biological mom and his own childhood insecurities about sports and boyishness among them. His devotion to family is what speaks loudest of all. VERDICT The messy realities of parenting are well known, but Bucatinsky’s memoir adds a wise-cracking voice to the chorus.

starred review star Cusk, Rachel. Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation. Farrar. Aug. 2012. 148p. ISBN 9780374102135. $23. MEMOIR

The details of how British memoirist and novelist Cusk’s (A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother) marriage broke down are only alluded to in this harrowing series of essays, which instead details the corrosion that occurs after a relationship has fallen apart. References to Greek mythology reinforce the timelessness of the brutality of human actions when men and women wage war at home. VERDICT Cusk’s raw writing spares no one and educates everyone. This is not a how-to guide about divorce but a gorgeous attempt to place one family’s experience in perspective.

starred review star Halberstadt, Michèle. La Petite. Other Press. 2012. 128p. tr. from French by Linda Coverdale. ISBN 9781590515310. pap. $14.95. MEMOIR

At the age of 12, French schoolgirl Halberstadt had enough of the grief and indignity of her life and decided to end it all. The events surrounding her (obviously unsuccessful) attempt at suicide are recounted here with dispassionate clarity and persuasiveness. Novelist and movie producer Halberstadt (The Pianist in the Dark) relates this unusual coming-of-age story without sentiment. VERDICT This is a big little book that illustrates, elegantly, the preciousness of life and emotions without once falling into greeting-card territory.

Iversen, Kristen. Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. Crown. 2012. 432p. ISBN 9780307955630. $25. MEMOIR

Secrets of all sorts loom behind the narrative of writer Iversen’s (Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth) account of a childhood spent in the literal and figurative shadows of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado. Part family history, part investigative reporting, this chilling enumeration of lies—told by family members and government officials alike—is the result of exhaustive research. Driven by her desire to set her family story straight and figure out what was in the air she had been breathing in all those years, Iversen uncovers her own secret history. VERDICT Told in the present tense, this memoir lends immediacy to its story, especially the portions involving incidents at the plant, which read like real-life disaster movie scenarios.

Swofford, Anthony. Hotels, Hospitals and Jails: A Memoir. Twelve: Hachette. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781455506736. $26.99. MEMOIR

Life for ex-Marine Swofford after the juggernaut success of his previous memoir, Jarhead, involved a lot of booze, drugs, and women while he also struggled with his brother’s death and a father characterized by reality-TV levels of malice and rivalry. Swofford’s journey to become a responsible family man, despite his lack of paternal role model (perhaps the biggest understatement ever), forms the basis of this testosterone-fueled saga of self-definition. VERDICT Swofford’s many fans will welcome this, the next chapter in a larger-than-life life. For others, though, it may read like an action film that has already started.

Tillman, Marie. The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss, and Life. Grand Central. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780446571456. $23.99. MEMOIR

The long path from a life defined by paralyzing grief to one reanimated by joy and love is difficult for any widowed spouse to travel. It was even harder for Tillman, whose husband, NFL player Pat Tillman, was killed under controversial circumstances in Afghanistan after he enlisted in the U.S. Army following 9/11, due to his iconic status and the very public nature of his life and death. Aided by wishes her husband describes in a “just in case” letter he wrote before his death, Tillman embarked on a project of creating a life without her constant companion since childhood. No longer the supporting figure in her own drama, Tillman took center stage and eventually assumed leadership of the philanthropic Pat Tillman Foundation. VERDICT The luxury of private grief was not afforded to Tillman, so she had to find a way to heal away from onlookers. The lessons she learned may assist those dealing with devastation, even if in less public settings.


Berg, Gretchen. I Have Iraq In My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion. Sourcebooks. 2012. 393p. ISBN 9781402265792. MEMOIR

Berg was unemployed, heavily in debt, and living with her parents when she was offered the opportunity of a lifetime—teaching English as a second language in Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq. Oblivious to the war raging in the rest of the country, Berg overpacks her multiple bags and heads off on a great adventure. She immediately finds herself at odds with a culture that isolates women but, determined to make the most of things, digs in her (high) heels and gets to work. She gives the reader a humorous glimpse into her year of teaching, traveling, and shoe purchases (all while managing to pay off her significant credit card bills). VERDICT A great rainy-day read for those who enjoy travel memoirs written with a skewed sense of humor.—Martha Bauder, LTC, US Army Reserve Physician

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