From Publishers Weekly
Grievances in my family are like underground coal fires, Friend confides, hard to detect and nearly impossible to extinguish. But a remembrance of his mother that appeared in the New Yorker
brought many of those tensions to the surface; shortly afterward, his father accused him of being a prisoner of Freudianism for dwelling on the theme of emotional distance. Nevertheless, Friend pushes forward, combining family history and memoir as he recounts his youthful efforts to prove my family was not my fate and break away from the cast of mind circumscribed by his WASP upbringing—the firm handshakes, the summer homes, the university clubs. Friend knows exactly how privileged he is and recognizes that readers won't easily feel sorry for someone who can spend more than $160,000 on therapy. (My birthright in wherewithal, he quips, seemed to me almost perfectly balanced by my birthright in repression.) Instead of asking for sympathy, he works at showing how his efforts at emotional integration have begun to pay off, including the relationship with his own wife and children, in a story of cross-generational frustration and reconciliation that transcends class boundaries. 8 pages of b&w photo. (Oct.)
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Critics' explanations of Cheerful Money
's appeal were as subtle as one of the intricate social rituals the book describes. Friend is a child of privilege, yet his emotional earnestness and somewhat elegiac tone more than make up for readers' potential resentment. His book is a flight from his WASPish past, yet in its thoroughness, it also constitutes a kind of defense of WASPs' peculiar culture. In any case, even reviewers who seemed to read Cheerful Money
with something of a sneer admitted that its form is original, its prose well-crafted, and its characters hilarious.