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Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor Hardcover – September 21, 2009

2.9 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Bookmarks Magazine

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (September 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316003174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316003179
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #610,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book. In an effort to understand his own rather constrained, Waspy nature, Tad Friend researches the lives of his various relatives--for the most part cheerful enough affairs on the surface (most of the time), but seething with a kind of quiet heartbreak. Friend himself would seem the picture of contentment: a successful NEW YORKER writer, a droll attractive fellow with loads of droll attractive friends, he yet feels a numbness of the soul that he can't quite understand. Coming to terms with this--the Wasp emotional inheritance--is the burden of this book. Nicely structured with a lot of contrapuntal set pieces about this or that relative, this or that girlfriend, the story draws one irresistibly along--and one might as well say it: I laughed and I cried, pretty much in equal parts. What I liked best about the book was the (how to put it?) companionability of the author--like a charming (but hitherto somewhat aloof) old pal who has a few too many one night and decides to bare his soul, half-seriously, though his audience comes to take him very seriously indeed.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I'm a WASP with a similar background to the author's and somewhat of a pushover for books like this (John Cheever and John O'Hara are favorites) but this souffle fell flat. Some of the author's relatives have interesting moments, but not enough to sustain a book for outsiders, and there is far too much whingeing about his own troubles. This book should have been privately printed in leather covers and given to the author's relatives at Christmas.
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Format: Hardcover
My local librarian asked me why there was a long list of requests for Cheerful Money. "It must be good," she said. When I told her that it really wasn't very good she said, "well, it must have some kind of appeal." And it does...to a limited audience.

First of all, Cheerful Money is indeed not a very good book, but it will find a place in the genre of Wasp chronicles. The structure is meandering. At points the book is truly boring. And the characters never really come to life. I could see these flaws when I spent about 30 minutes in the aisle of my local book store giving it a speed-read and deciding that it was not worth buying. And yet, a few weeks later I was one of those who requested it from the library. I think if you have little or a lot of WASP in you or have lived close to one or many of them you are drawn to reading about this world and its dissolution in the second half of the 20th century. Maybe I needed that assurance that the WASP world had lost its relevance so I would feel safe in abandoning any aspirations that might have lingered from my own Seven Sister/ Ivy League college days.

Admittedly I skipped over many paragraphs and at least twice considering abandoning the book. But I was glad I finished it, even though the whole bit towards the end about the author's psychoanalysis and failed relationships was lame. Mr Friend is a good writer, better than shows in this book. He has a knack for finding just the right metaphor.

You will enjoy the book if you are interested in a glimpse into this bygone world. For a tighter and more interesting narrative of the same subject, George Colt's Big House has more poignancy and a surer social (as well as artistic) compass.
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Format: Hardcover
...this book is best enjoyed by the people who were there.

Memoirs to me are an exercise in self indulgence unless the person writing has had a particularly interesting life. The author of this book hasn't.

He seems like a nice man, and is obviously a talented writer but perhaps he spends too much time with people of the same background (The New Yorker is hardly a mag for the masses) because he seems to think that nutty relatives, disappointments in childhood, the sad ends of promising people, and parents you love but don't always understand, belong exclusively to the life of a WASP. I'm very much not of his culture and yet I've experienced much of what he talks about. There's a snobbishness in thinking that his background elevates his memories to memoir status. Maybe that's the only thing about the book that is uniquely WASP. I get the sense of a man in mid-life trying to figure himself out through the lens of his childhood. Good for him. But it's not unique, and it's not interesting enough for a book.
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Format: Hardcover
Tad Friend wrote a book about which another Amazon reviewer has written, "should be published privately for his family". I agree with those sentiments. Friend's writing is fine; the subject matter - his family and other WASPs he has known - and their mating, spending, educational proclivities, is just basically boring after a while.

The other thing that I thought lacking in the book was a proper "family tree". Friend includes one at the beginning of the book - and noted that it wasn't complete - and then proceeds to write about several close relatives, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who were not on the tree. I would have loved to know their "dates" and relationships with others in the family, but sadly, they weren't included. For instance, he writes about a cousin(?) named Norah Pierson, from his mother's side. She - and her sister - were non-conformists in the Pierson family. (Norah Pierson was a highly regarded jeweler out here in Santa Fe before her death). Even by closely searching the family tree, I couldn't find that branch.

The other reviews of this book on Amazon seem to run the gauntlet between five and one stars. Maybe it's not bad that Tad Friend's book evoked such a diverse range of opinion. It means readers are reading and thinking.
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