Unhappy Families are full of these new books about fathers and sons

By Adrian Nathan West
173 pages and other stories. Paper, $16.95.

“What is the purpose of my life on this planet?” A big question but at the heart of West’s “My Father’s Diet,” a novel about a father who’s recently divorced and is looking for something to do, enters a bodybuilding competition. His son, the book’s narrator, decides to help him train, a deal that offers the chance for the two to reconnect after years apart. As in real life, opportunities are easily wasted.

“My Father’s Diet” is a succinct and disturbing, if uneven, portrait of intergenerational indecision. At its best, the novel presents the recognizable embarrassment of a changing world. Actions no longer produce predictable reactions. For example, when the narrator’s father told his fitness coach that “rest and recovery are just as important as training,” the instructor responded not by disagreeing but with a series of questions. obscene. And while eavesdropping on a young couple, the narrator notes that they talk “incoherently, with what psychologists call ‘poverty of influence’, whose conversations bear little resemblance to those of acquaintances or strangers rather than conversations in a first-year foreign language textbook.” Is this really all there is to? West not only notes this estrangement from the narrator’s middle-aged father, but also with the narrator himself – shunned before he turned 21.

West has an eye for detail, as he aptly describes urgent German as “a strangely appropriate word undulating on the surface like a bone in a pot of boiling broth.” But not all of his descriptions were successful, as when the bus floor was “grooved pink plastic, with white marble veins, like a piece of bacon.” In these more jarring moments, the novel tests its way forward, revealing an uncertainty that the bodybuilding plot, introduced halfway through the book, seems to reinforce.

But back to the big question: life on this planet and all that. While helping his father, the narrator (who has no vigor, no ambition, no friends) thinks about “the future, when I can do something interesting and characterizing in my life.” will no longer feel temporary and take on what people call meaning or direction.” But the world of the book, and the example given by the narrator’s father, convince us that this is an illusion: Let the man who has learned from his father’s failures, believe in it. own ambition.

By Daniel Black
301. Hanover Square Page. $26.99.

Black’s sad and compelling new novel is an example that fiction is not just a literary form but a place. We go there for lessons on how to live, how to change, and most importantly, how to forgive and seek forgiveness.

The book – written as a series of letters from a dying father to his estranged gay son – opens with an author’s note explaining the novel’s origins: Father Black’s was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013 and his memory started to fade before they could “hash everything out.” That means the conversations he hopes to have with his father “can only happen in my imagination”. “Don’t cry for me” is the result of that fantasy.

The novel’s father, Jacob, is cruel to his son, Isaac, and now, through the letters that make up the book, he is trying to contextualize his life and choices, a a life where love “is not the fruit of a person. ” In this way, “Don’t Cry for Me” crosses the rickety line between tragedy and horror. But despite its emotional risks – it demonstrates obsessive focus, copying into family meals (e.g., “Grandma’s food is the best I’ve ever tasted”), and repetition affirms that simply telling the story or getting it out of his chest will make a difference – a theme that emerges: “Don’t cry for me” is a novel of fiction, a story of stories. story.

In fact, part of Jacob’s motivation to write was reading. After “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, Jacob stated, “I never knew I could decide how to live, how to be in this world. Never knew I had the right. After “Purple”, he concluded, “What we used to call a man is actually a monster.” Reading itself also brought Isaac into a more accepting world, beyond his father’s reach: “You’re a reader, you’ve lived in your imagination.” And reading gave Jacob a tool by which he could apologize for his abuses and transform the image of him in his son’s eyes, word for word.

With a limited perspective, “Don’t Cry for Me” could not reach Isaac’s imagination. We are left with only Jacob’s last letters, his last unanswered plea: “Remember, even though we are flawed, we are also wonderful.” The reader is well aware of the great risk he takes that Isaac may not want to remember at all.

By Obed Silva
292 pages MCD / Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 27 dollars.

A third of the way in his debut memoir, Silva says of “The Sopranos”: “Tony Soprano remarked that ‘remember when…’ is the lowest form of conversation.” But Silva disagreed. For a drunkard like his father, “‘Remember when’ is only conversation form. The past was the only topic he could discuss for long periods of time, and there was no future there.”

It is perhaps fitting, then, that “The Death of My Father’s Pope” is reminiscent of a drunk man alone in a bar who wants to “remember when” with you each of his scars. His stories are moving. They are also tired.

Fugue is a subtle form, especially for a memoir about an awakening and a funeral. Several times, Silva turns from the present action of this memorial back into the past to explore his father’s life. Through these flashbacks, Silva offers a dramatic and tumultuous view of his father: Not only was he a drunkard, he was also an artist who abandoned his talents. He beat his wife and children, started and abandoned the family as a hobby. He “loved us the way only a sick man could love anyone: indecently,” Silva said.

Throughout the memoir, Silva explains that his family is unlike the others: “There is no black and white American dream family.” Instead, “violence is already in our blood,” he said, as if it were a mythic curse to be endured rather than systemic damage caused and sustained by humans. The violence Silva describes is disturbing; and although he seems to acknowledge the chauvinistic aspects of being raised in a family that believes violence is its legacy, it’s still hard not to cower in the face of some random misbehavior in the book – a one-sided description of an art buyer as “some bad lady lawyer,” for example, or a man who becomes “victim” before the hypnotic gaze of women – especially especially in a story haunted by rape.

Silva seems to be trying to personify someone who has caused great pain, to understand someone whose crimes, literally and morally, have hurt generations in his family. It is a great and necessary work, especially at such a morally binary time in history – when it becomes all too easy to erase or ignore the good parts of a person because They also did terrible things. However, the grandeur of the memoir pushes it closer to myth than to literature: that is, farther.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/01/books/review/my-fathers-diet-dont-cry-for-me-the-death-of-my-father-the-pope-adrian-nathan-west-daniel-black-obed-silva.html Unhappy Families are full of these new books about fathers and sons

Fry Electronics Team

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