IN THE EARLY TIMES

  • by

Now in his mid-50s, “sliding down the neck of the hourglass,” veteran New Yorker staff writer Friend updates his memoir Cheerful Money by once again examining his childhood and young adulthood, education and aspirations, and reflecting, in intimate detail, on his marriage to food writer Amanda Hesser and parenthood to twins. “You’d think that by now,” he writes, “after years of observation, I’d have a fix on my closest relatives. But fitting your family together begins as a jigsaw puzzle and becomes an anxiety dream.” Complicating the puzzle was his discovery, after his father’s death in 2019, of a trove of letters, journals, ruminations, and verses, including a file titled “Annals of Carnality 1948-58,” which revealed someone far different from the emotionally distant father who, Friend writes, “hugged me until I was about seven. Then he stopped.” The man who emerged from these pieces was “curious, generous, errant, sensitive, bighearted.” He admitted to several affairs and was tormented by unfulfilled ambition. “Starved of affection,” his father had written, “I grew hungry for honor.” An award-winning historian who had served as president of Swarthmore College, he never achieved the fame he sought in the public arena, and though he loved his wife, he craved passion. Friend fears emulating his father even though he hopes that years of therapy enabled him to “become exquisitely sensitive and self-aware, and surpass him.” Certainly he surpassed his father in betrayal: A yearslong “litany of infidelities” threatened his marriage. Fatherhood is a major cause of anxiety, as well. His twins—wise, witty, and precociously articulate—feature in many anecdotes. But Friend cannot help but worry, “Is the father I wanted the father they want, too? Or is the father I got the father I’ve inevitably become?” Mostly engaging, the narrative at times seems self-serving despite the author’s efforts at candor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.