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The Bill from My Father: A Memoir Paperback – January 9, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cooper, whose Maps to Anywhere won the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, crafts a brusquely tender elegy to his baffling father, Edward, who died in 2000 (the book's title refers to an itemized bill of expenses incurred from upbringing and mailed from father to son). Edward was a blustery Los Angeles divorce lawyer with a flair for drama in and out of court. Circling from recent to distant past, Cooper recalls his utter bewilderment at his father's ill-advised imbroglios, which included an affair with his father's evangelical nurse and a lawsuit against the phone company. With a sharp scalpel of detail, Cooper dissects his father's stinging dismissals and unceremonious reconciliations with his sole surviving progeny, laboring to slice away a mystique that "ballooned into myth" in Edward's sustained absences. Dear old dad never bothered to read his son's prize-winning work, in which he figures prominently—though it's clear that father and son share a linguistic legerdemain. Stirring yet never saccharine, this memoir excavates a fraught history without once collapsing into cliché. As much as Cooper seeks truth, he finally grows comfortable in the shadowy depths of his father's legacy. "By delving into the riddle of him, I hoped to know his mystery by finer degrees."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Cooper's midlife coming-of-age story was undertaken after a New York editor read his essay about his father and encouraged a book. Dad, a former L.A. attorney specializing in high-profile divorces until retirement at 86, had "glided downtown each weekday morning in a white Cadillac, his fingernails buffed to a high gloss, his briefcase embossed with interlocking letters, ESC, for Edward Samuel Cooper," and thought of his sole surviving son's writing as a hobby. He hoped Bernard would one day abandon teaching freshman composition for a real job but consented to interviews for this book, thereby setting in motion a humorous, wrenching, but never boring exploration of a frustrating father-son relationship. Bernard's deceased brothers had pleased their father by becoming lawyers or private investigators, joining Dad's firm, and being heterosexual. Bernard did none of that and has to come to terms with the philandering, curmudgeonly father he wishes would grant even token approval instead of the itemized, two-million-dollar bill he'd once sent Bernard for his upbringing. And you thought your father was something else! Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743249631
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743249638
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Deborah A. Lott on February 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Who needs James Frey making up sensationalistic details and calling it memoir when we have Bernard Cooper whose brilliant writing makes ordinary experience fantastic, who slows down the rush of time that constitutes our everyday lives to find the most poignant, most telling, most-in-danger-of-being-lost-forever moments and, in the telling, renders them sublime? If you want to see what memoir at its best is capable of, read The Bill from My Father. In it, Cooper captures the universal mysteriousness of having parents: how could these people be both so like us, and so completely foreign to us? How could they seem like both the only parents we could possibly have, and as arbitrary as if the stork dropped us by accident on their doorstep? This book is hysterically funny, terribly sad, and heart-achingly beautiful. Bravo.
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Format: Hardcover
Cooper published his memoir about his relationship with his father a full ten years after an editor suggested the topic. The editor was inspired by an essay Cooper published about his eccentric father, an essay the author desperately tried to hide from his father, for fear he would be enraged about its revelations. Cooper clearly agonized about his portrayal of his father--how do you talk about a flawed, angry, sarcastic, and eccentric man in a positive life, without demonizing him? Well, Mr. Cooper, if no one has said it to you yet, let me say it loud and clear: your love for your father shone throughout your prose, even as he billed you for $2 million dollars, even as he sued all your family members, and even as he wrote you off for minor offenses. As I reader, I came to love and respect your father, with all his quirks included.

Edward Cooper looms larger than life. His situation with the phone company reveals all--the author's father (Edward) had a thousand-dollar phone bill due to calling a televangelist recommended by his nurse/girlfriend, but he refused to pay it. He got embroiled in a months-long battle with the phone company, threatening litigation (Edward had been a famed Los Angeles divorce attorney back in the day). As a last resort, a phone company supervisor called Edward's son, our author, who was listened as an emergency contact on the account.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book only goes to show that a parent can often seem like a complete stranger, baffling and mysterious. Bernard Cooper's father was a true enigma and it is up to Cooper to try and make some sense out of his very difficult relationship with his father, a man who can be extremely mean and, yes, abusive...but Cooper refuses to give up on him. This is one intense book and I only hope the shadow James Frey (A Million little Pieces) has thrown over the memoir genre doesn't keep people from reading this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lewis DeSimone on June 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a sincere, humorous, yet deeply compassionate memoir, Cooper limns the complex relationship that all fathers and sons know too well. Without glossing over the inevitable conflicts, he offers a well-rounded portrait of his admittedly irascible and puzzling father, suggesting but never sentimentalizing the pain that lies at the core of their relationship. Cooper's eye for the telling detail has never been sharper, his courage as a memoirist never clearer. Essential reading for anyone who's ever been or had a parent.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jon Miller on April 19, 2006
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There are 2 writers whose next books I wait for, buy and gobble up right away, then re-read slower a few more times: One is David Foster Wallace and the other is Bernard Cooper.

_Bill from My Father_ flows with what I've come to think of as the standard "Cooperian" fluid, lucid prose. Mr. Cooper has an amazing ability to explore complicated interpersonal ties without ever losing me as a reader to sentimentality or gratuitously personal complications. (In this he reminds me a lot of George Eliot.) This is what I love most about his writing: he can write about soul-wrenching, heartbreaking emotions without ever slipping into schmaltz or any kind of "martyr-ish" undercurrent. I suspect that has something to do with his subtle and exact use of humor and irony. He never gets lazy and lapses into the so-called post-modern pose of irony for irony's sake.

I did recognize some ancedotes from _Year of Rhymes_ and _Truth Serum_ but as repeats, those didn't bother me at all. I actually liked them. That I already had mental images of his parents and his childhood in Los Angeles gave me a backdrop that made _Bill from_ even more emotionally accessable. Corny as it might be, the analogy fits: it was like learning more about a friend whom I already knew a little.

There is a lot of nobility in this book, and it's genuine. The real impact of the whole story came in slowly, bit by bit, recognizing the nobility and dignity of the uber-curmudgeon Edward Cooper and at the same time being somewhat in awe of the author's capacity for understanding and forgivness -- of both himself and his father.
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