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Are You Happy?: A Childhood Remembered Hardcover – March 16, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The answer to the question posed by such a title would seem, inevitably, to be "no," but Gordon qualifies her frequent tears as "the manifestation of a particularly satisfying kind of lyrical sadness." This is her second venture into memoir, following the well-reviewed Mockingbird Years, an account of her institutionalization as a late teenager and subsequent therapy. This book covers her earlier, 1950s childhood as the daughter of a miserly and often hectoring Jewish economics professor at Williams College, whom she claims to have hated, and his eventually alcoholic Presbyterian schoolteacher wife. Though bright (readers are told frequently), Gordon felt like a "misfit"; an overweight, underachieving faculty brat; a "social pariah"; a "blob." By sixth grade, she was failing school and, like her classmates, fascinated by sex. A crush on her voice coach led her to try to implicate his wife in an affair with the soccer coach, but the lie was easily discovered, leaving her humiliated and eager to move with her parents from the Berkshires to Manhattan for a fresh start. The book, about childhood friends and teachers, too, analyzes Gordon's parents throughout. Early on, Gordon comments, "There's nothing more tiresome than a grown daughter's brief against her parents." Indeed. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gordon is a mordantly witty writer with a gift for slam-dunk metaphors. She is also stubbornly confessional and obsessed with minutiae. Gordon's first memoir, Mockingbird Years: A Life In and Out of Therapy (2000), documented her psychiatric institutionalization as a teenager. Now she circles back to her 1950s childhood as a chubby and hard-to-educate "faculty brat" in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where her father was a professor of economics on his way to becoming a presidential advisor, and her flinty, ironic, and multitalented mother was headed for alcoholism. It makes sense that she feels like a "visiting anthropologist," given her preternatural observational skills and sense of outsiderness. Gordon's portraits of her parents are acid-etched, her ability to convey her child's sensibility impressive, and her interpretation of collegiate society and her school days scathing. Frustratingly, her barbed reminiscences turn smothering and eventually ring false. Hopefully this cathartic work will allow Gordon to move on and turn her considerable talents loose on a larger world. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
I wonder how Ms. Fox would react if her life had been so unfair to her as it was to her mother. Among other things Molly Gordon was the better writer.
ARE YOU HAPPY? invites us into the compelling story of Gordon's childhood that is at once shockingly personal and universal. She reveals a psychic landcape, an event in our cultural consciousness, a deliciously discerning expose of family life, the fifties, parental love and failure. Her awareness of herself and the world is so evolved that the book unfolds as an exquisite map of individual consciousness, the "socialization" of that, and the brave refusal to limit one's imaginative life and primordial communion with the world.
She writes so well that I read many of her sentences over and over to savor them, and in fact savored the entire book. Gordon has a true gift for writing of profound emotional conflict with empathic clarity. This is a book I value most of all for its wry introspection and moments of awareness that explode in revelation. It's not only about a childhood but the self in all its pain and luminosity.
reflects the ways in which memory really works. Are You Happy? delights with loose chronology and fleeting images, like the balloon glimpsed after the child has let go of the string. Yet the book is grounded by scrupulous attention to detail, with attending sounds, tastes, and fragrances that fully realize each hovering miniature. Here, one understands the author carefully scrutinized the past not to recite a history, but to evoke and describe a state of being, embracing the privilege, and one of the goals, of the memoirist: to make art of the past, as would a painter, or a musician improvising on a theme.