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66 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2009
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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47 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2009
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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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2009
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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61 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2009
...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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2009
I quickly found myself skimming for "The Good Parts" from among these extensive family histories and memoirs of old line monied people and their ancestors. Of course, each reader will have their own idiosyncratic "Good parts", and mine were the social class boundaries, and the religious/political opinions of the wealthy from the 1900's on. As well as the author's own love life, career and subsequent marriage with children. In essence, I had to do a lot of "skipping and picking" to get what I wanted from this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2010
Ok- I will admit it: These are my people. I read hilarious parts out loud to my cousin- and he looked blank. Ah! He was raised in California! My Jewish friends also look blank, or look at me sympathetically. It may well be that this book is only interesting to fellow WASPs- and those non-WASPs struggling to understand their WASPy mates. I guess for me it is vindication that our family was not the only one encumbered by these odd culture traits, rituals, shortcomings and apprehensions. I find myself nodding, smiling,or cringing in empathy. Periodically I have to stop reading to wipe tears of laughter away. I admit that it is like looking at a family album belonging to a cousin- all familiar- just a slightly different perspective. Having escaped that world (you kind of have to), I have no problem owning it- and can view my parents and ancestors - and all Tad Friend's family- with sympathy, humor, and horror- all of it. We're all just human. "The full catastrophe" as Zorba would say. This book says it all- which is probably more than you want.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2010
This memoir is evidence that a sense of entitlement does not make a riveting tale. The tone of the book is detached and almost prissy. The author, as well as his family, come across as spectacularly uninteresting. There are few observations about WASP culture, despite the book's grand subtitle. Put your white gloves on and skim.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2010
I'm a couple of chapters into this book I'm amazed by how boring I find it. I went to school back east & understand this culture a little bit from the outside looking in. Friend sure is taking his time peeling back the layers. To continue or not. I'm not sure. I expected it to move along
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2009
How many ways can a reviewer say boring? I hoped this would be an exciting look into the elegant, distinctive, old-fashioned WASP lifestyle. I wanted to read, to experience, in some secondhand way, the glitter, the sparkle, the charm of the wealthy and the socially elite. What I did get in this book was a lot of painfully boring stories, dry humor that I didn't think was funny or wasn't able to relate to, and affiliations that meant nothing to me. I wanted to love this book, but woe is me....I just didn't.
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