[David, a teenager in the 1960s, is discussing his family with his sister Cynthia]
[She said] “Of course we’re hopeless. What else could we be? We come from a long line of snotty criminals on both sides. Dad’s an alcoholic pervert and mother’s a goofy pill head.” I said righteously that we didn’t have to be like them and she agreed because she had no intention of being like them…
Cynthia was clearly the leader of the “bad girls”, the free spirits in her crowd, despite the fact that she had just finished her freshman year and others were older, and some of them seniors.
When I reached our front yard [her friend] Laurie and Cynthia were there sitting on the lawn dressed for a party in the skimpiest of clothing. This was the age of the miniskirt.
observations: On p167 of my copy of this book the narrator, who is sharing his most intimate thoughts and feelings, and the whole history of his life, with us, writes a letter, and signs it David. I thought ‘oh, you know I couldn’t have told you for any money what his first name was.’ He did introduce himself on p1, but I don’t think people use his name much in dialogue, and I had no feeling for his name, which is odd, because the book truly is all about him.
This is the kind of book I would expect to HATE: David writes at length about his feelings, he describes many minor incidents and characters in great detail. It is never clear which of the happenings in his life are going to be important and which aren’t. He is obsessed with his own family history, and the geography of where he grew up – the Upper Peninsula of Michigan State, where his family ‘ravaged the landscape’. He is telling us about his researches into the details of the ravaging. The book is like a how-to video, where they speed through some bits, then slow down to show you the next important instruction: he will pass over some quite long period of time in a few lines, then we’re back showing one foot stepping in front of another.
In fact I loved it, I found it mesmerizing and extraordinary. I read it because I so much liked his Legends of the Fall – made into a Brad Pitt film in 1994 – and this one is even better. He has such a great writing style, and he carries you along with his ridiculous story. I was making far too many notes of wonderful sentences and perceptions: I loved David’s disgraced father who ‘saw himself as the aggrieved one… as if the family were a collective pope that had excommunicated him without good cause.’ David leaves for a summer job and ‘it dawns on you that the world bears little similarity to home.’ Awkward rich boy (with family summer homes and cabins), he looks at a local woman’s flimsy shack and asks ‘do you stay in winter?’ – her response is gracious but funny, then ‘she patted my hand as my face reddened.’
All the places in it are real – I ended up getting out a road map of Michigan and following his progress round the area. Some of the people are real too: the author of Anatomy of a Murder, Robert Traver/John D Voelker is a minor character. You would guess the book might be somewhat autobiographical.
I am sure people would hate it, but I still cannot recommend it highly enough, though am not finding it easy to say why….
The top picture is from the Dutch National Archives, the lower one from a Biba catalogue.