Forever Fascinated by Family | Memoir

Families keep coming up in my memoir columns. Maybe it’s because I’m fascinated by family relationships and how they shape us; maybe it’s because those who write memoirs also recognize the importance of family. Or it could be just because we really never can get away from our families, no matter how hard we try. Whatever the reason, this month we have four keepers that deal in various ways—from the hilarious to the tragic, and everything in between—with families.

bandit-brodakBrodak, Molly. Bandit: A Daughter’s Memoir. Black Cat. Oct. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780802125637. pap. $16. MEMOIR
The subject of poet/writer Brodak’s debut memoir is her father, Joe, a sociopathic gambling addict who has spent many years in prison for armed robbery. On the page he comes across as ghost-like, a man barely present in his daughter’s life, even when physically available. A central question of the book is if we can ever come to know somebody who deliberately hides so much of themselves behind stories and lies. The author also struggles to comprehend the parts of herself that remind her of her father: she details shoplifting sprees in college and the obsessive and calculated behavior involved. Were her actions an attempt to understand him? Or a result of being who she is, or was, in some fundamental way, very much like him? VERDICT Brodak displays incredible empathy for her father, a man who has caused her tremendous pain but whom she also clearly still loves.

clancysofqueensClancy, Tara. The Clancys of Queens. Crown. Oct. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781101903117. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101903124. MEMOIR
Comedian/monologist Clancy’s memoir about growing up in blue-collar Queens, NY, during the week and the Hamptons on weekends is light, breezy, and expertly crafted. Though she deals with tough subject matter—her parents’ divorce, her teenage drinking and drug use—the focus is always on moving beyond such challenges with humor and the help of friends and family. The author’s portrait of her maternal grandmother, an old-world and old-school Italian immigrant, is winning and memorable. The book takes us up through Clancy’s college years, more or less. So one anticipates, and hopes, there are many more stories she has to tell about her life. VERDICT Though there are a wealth of insightful memoirs around, few are better narrated. And sometimes that’s what we need: a good story, told well. [See “Editors’ Fall Picks,” LJ 9/1/16.]

friedlander-wherememoryFriedländer, Saul. Where Memory Leads: My Life. Other. Nov. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781590518090. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590518106. MEMOIR
Friedländer (history, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945), a leading Holocaust scholar, has given us a follow-up of sorts to his 1977 memoir, When Memory Comes. While that title focused on his childhood and the tragic separation from his parents (who were killed during the Holocaust), this one ranges across his life. The primary focus is on his intellectual and political development and ambivalent relationship, both politically and as a citizen, with Israel. A charming aspect of the book is the author’s frequent and ironic acknowledgement that memory doesn’t always work the way we want it to. VERDICT Friedländer is an engaging writer and personality. This is an important book for readers interested in intellectual history and the history of Israel.

slouka-nobodyssonstarred review starSlouka, Mark. Nobody’s Son. Norton. Oct. 2016. 304p. illus. ISBN 9780393292305. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393292312. MEMOIR
Though Slouka handles the legacy of his Czechoslovakian refugee parents, particularly that of his mother, obliquely in his stories and novels (most recently, Brewster), here he faces it straight on. His mother is an incredible figure, at times deeply caring and compassionate, and at other moments, especially as Slouka grows older, astonishingly callous, obsessive, and even despicable in her treatment of her family. Slouka also, in what seems to be a growing trend in recent memoirs, explores the nature of memory and how we shape, and are shaped by, our memories. He focuses particularly on how in relating our memories we are essentially telling convenient stories that fit into conventional narratives. VERDICT The scope and intensity of this exploratory, at times excruciating, memoir are incredible. Here are entire lives, recollected and resurrected with amazing clarity. This title is bound to be a classic of the genre. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/16.]

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Derek Sanderson About Derek Sanderson

Derek Sanderson is currently Assistant Librarian for Instruction Services at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. When not reviewing books or at the library he enjoys spending time with his son, reading, listening to the Grateful Dead, making mix tapes, and watching whichever sports are in season.