on May 28, 2015
An interesting take on the theory of a memoir, as it does not follow a traditional format. If you are a writer or seek to be one, this is a must read as I haven't encountered anything like it before. I received this book as a review copy with the only request being that I write an honest review upon my read of the book. A positive review is viewed as favorably as a negative one in the publisher's eyes. I only state this upfront to be clear that I received this book without any preconceived notions of what I would be reading nor the intent to have a certain view upon the content prior to the read.
To be upfront, I must say this is not a book that I would typically choose to read as I tend to like to read either pure fiction or absolute non-fictional accounts of those who I view as important to shaping our world and our lives. This book takes these two techniques and more or less combines their very different goals and aspects. This made it an uncomfortable read for me, forcing me to remind myself that this was not what I kept thinking I was reading; a non-fictional account in a personal memoir.
What one should expect from this book is an interesting read, with the author wrangling with himself and his deeply held beliefs and then juxtaposing these beliefs as a viewer of them from the perspective of the next generation, his son in this case. This was obviously a very difficult book to pen, demanding the storytelling of growing up in the shadow of the second world war, while also making a personal connection with this time period and how it contributed to how his son sees him, warts and all.
I think this story is one better told by a truly unbiased mind; the author's son. But this is not what is done in the book, it is a fictional tale told by the author himself. For this reason it makes it difficult for me to take an unbiased view of the author's view on the world. We cannot write our own history from the perspective of another and not bias the account or leave out things that a third party would like to explore further. I will say however that this is a one of a kind work that is worth a read for this fact alone. To read a book that does not follow the typical formula you expect to read is a truly surprising event.
on June 7, 2015
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Love & Fury by Richard Hoffman is a memoir of his complicated relationship with his father and other members of his family. It moves between past and present, exploring Hoffman's questions about why he is unable to understand his father, the love he nevertheless feels for the man who was both violent and loving toward his sons, and the grief Hoffman feels when he dies. That grief resurrects the pain of his mother's death decades before, and the even earlier deaths of two of Hoffman's three brothers due to muscular dystrophy.
At the same time he's dealing with all those losses he also faces serious problems within his own family. His wife is diagnosed with a serious illness, his son fights an addiction, and his daughter has a child with a black man who ends up being sent to prison. Hoffman tries to make sense of family's experience by placing it within the context of the times in which they live. That involves looking the changing fortunes of working class America, the racism with which Hoffman was raised, and the current prejudices faced by blacks in this country even if they, like the father of Hoffman's grandson, are immigrants from the Caribbean and therefore not really part of the long history of the African American experience of bigotry. Throughout, Hoffman is honest about his mistakes and the ways in which he doesn't live up to his own best intentions.
He offers no pat answers, but instead simply describes the process of moving forward, loving and honoring difficult people and while trying not to carry the worst of their struggles and mistakes into the future. In the process he creates a story that's moving, even for those of whose struggle between familial love and fury is far less fraught than his.
on October 12, 2014
A memoirist walks a dangerous path. How many professions call upon its practitioners to publicly eviscerate themselves on the page in front of thousands of readers and to do so without compunction, and, at times, with self-sustained glee?
The poet, writer and educator, Richard Hoffman, is one called to such work; and, his latest book, the poignant, transformative, Love & Fury, asks as many questions as it answers. Love & Fury is a literary tour de force, a mature follow-up to Hoffman’s 1995 memoir, Half the House. The earlier book is an unflinching, guts-exploded look at a family wrestling with the debilitating effects of illness, poverty, rage and the smothering secret of a baseball coach’s sexual abuse. In the second, Hoffman deals primarily with the death of his father, but also his roles in life: father, husband, grandfather and brother. It comes from a different point of view from Half the House, from an author attempting to make sense of the vagaries and hard realities of life. It sometimes takes a wistful, melancholy tone, but never slips into sentimentality. “Never” should be emphasized, for Hoffman is not a sentimental writer.
Hoffman never shies away from the unpleasant. He reveals as much about his family as could be asked of any memoirist. Nothing is sugar coated, no question left unasked. In one of the surprising turns in this book, Hoffman explores the actions of his daughter’s lover, a black man incarcerated in federal prison, but this is no linear recounting of a man in trouble with the law. Hoffman takes a deep look at the role of African-American men in our society and the American justice system. Out of his daughter’s relationship rises one of the constant joys if his life, his grandson D. The writer also explores his own son’s addiction to alcohol and its effect upon the family.
Only a memoirist of Hoffman’s stature has the capability to take us into the bathroom after discovering his father’s cache of “dirty magazines,” accompanied by corresponding Catholic shame and guilt, and not make us feel tawdry. He makes it a shared experience, bringing a blush of recognition to our own cheeks. Or to bring us to the funeral home to view his father’s body being prepared for burial: The room vibrated a bit and darkened from a truck going by in the narrow alley and I caught a bit of salsa on the radio as it passed. There were sounds from within the building, too, on the other side of the door at the far end of the room, water running and, faintly, the sound of something like a dentist’s drill. I looked at my feet, at my new black shoes. My father, it seemed to me, was waiting for me. Hoffman’s gifts as a poet and writer have long been known and Love & Fury is no exception. His prose is clean, diamond hard and lyrical.
Ultimately, Love & Fury is a meditation upon Hoffman’s many roles in life and their accompanying obstacles, pathos and joys. In the end, many questions remain unanswered, but Hoffman’s promise as a memoirist is fulfilled. He brings as much light and understanding to the reader about his life and family, and, by extension, our own, as any reader could require.
Love and Fury by Richard Hoffman is a fictional memoir. Is that possible? It seems so. It is narrated by Dick, the eldest son in a dysfunctional (normal?) working class family with all the struggles that implies. The family is headed by an explosive and volatile father figure. While I read some of the segments involving Dick's father, it brought back a memory of a story I had been writing for a class. In the story, I wrote about an abusive female figure I had been acquainted with. Using actual incidents and actual dialogue I had heard directly from this woman's mouth with my very own ears, I presented this particular chapter to the class and was met with concerns that it was too unbelievable, that a mother would never do or say what this particular mom did and said. But I knew it to be true, regardless. I mention this because the father figure might seem unrealistic to some readers, tyrannical in a way that seems too over the top. But let's face it, truth is stranger than fiction.
As the novel/memoir meandered on, I felt detached by not always feeling comfortable with whether I was reading a novel or a memoir. And a bit confused that certain rather awful moments in Dick's youth had been dropped and left somewhat up in the air without satisfactory resolution or a coming to terms of sorts. Perhaps this was intentional. Perhaps not.
I had a hard time trying to stay connected to the narrative, even though I believe the awfulness exhibited by Dick's father was based on reality. I found many parts of the story plausible and palpable but other bits seemed completely untethered to the overall themes.
on November 29, 2014
It’s Richard Hoffman’s relentless passion for his wobbly family that makes Love and Fury so absorbing and affecting. At the center he’s trying to grok his father’s Old World, war-weary, at times racialized consciousness while some of that substrate revisits his life in the form of his daughter’s interracial marriage, Hoffman’s troubled son-in-law, and the surprise of their child, his grandson. I was amazed at how many male lives spill into one another here—brothers, fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons, husbands, along with mothers and wives—the blended family we call it in which the blend never quite occurs.
Above all I loved Hoffman’s facility with time: I’ve read very few writers who can move so effortlessly from present to past and back as well as a memory inside that past or present. Whatever time he’s in is unsuspectingly infiltrated with the selves of other eras (boyhood, Dadhood, Grandpahood)—you don’t even realize he’s leaping such hurdles so easy are the transitions. Somehow this is all thought out but it doesn’t read that way.
The memoirist’s art is to be in it and above it simultaneously. It’s not a magic trick, but rather the actual way body and mind inhabit spacetime—the most mysterious but common shared feeling we have of our transience.
Love and fury, yes, but also regret and illusion and disillusion and a sustained, book-length unsettledness. Hoffman walks the highest of the high-wire acts we memoirists and essayists take.
This book had a lot of potential and some amazing hooks that went nowhere. He talks about his daughter's unplanned pregnancy, being raped as a young boy, his brothers' terminal illnesses, his "son-in-law's" incarceration, his son's alcohol abuse, some very insightful observations about race and racism, and his own drug and alcohol abuse. Each of these could have captivated my attention entirely, but instead he talks about them briefly (enough to whet your appetite) and then the thread he weaves throughout the whole book is reflections about the life of his father, who spent the last quarter century of his life rotting in an arm chair. This was the least interesting aspect of his life to me.
I would have loved to hear more about any of the first list of topics, but he really leaves you hanging. I would have loved to know how he came of age dealing with a rape in his past, or how his "son-in-law's" incarceration turned out, or how his daughter's career turned out, or anything about any of that but it's not there. It left me feeling disinterested. At the end of the book he goes on for pages and pages about his dad's funeral.
Overall he had some amazing thoughts, ideas, and stories, and he's an amazing writer but the theme of the book and the thread he chose made the book fall flat for me.
I always feel bad when I dislike a memoir. It makes me feel like I'm saying I dislike the person, and I doubt that is the case. This short group of essays was extremely emotional, but never really pulled me in. Honestly, it is so sad that I didn't really want to pick it back up to find out what happened next. A lot of the scenes stuck with me long after I put the book down and made me reflect upon life and be thankful that I didn't feel the same way.
The writing style was done well. In some cases, you can almost think it is fiction. The scenes are fully described with more than just what was remembered and seen. All five sense are involved in the essays and they definitely provide a shock now and then about the blunt, honest manner things are delivered. I just never found myself wanting to read it, so it wasn't the right book for me.