- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (July 10, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374299374
- ISBN-13: 978-0374299378
- Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,217,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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House of Happy Endings: A Memoir Hardcover – July 10, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Artfully stitched like a well-made quilt, the patches of Garis's memoir encompass three generations. When she was eight years old, her grandmother Lilian, who wrote the early Bobbsey Twins, and grandfather Howard Garis, who created and virtually became Uncle Wiggily, moved into her family's home in Amherst, Mass. In this spellbinding memoir of green moments and gray ones, Garis chronicles how, in this book-reading, music-playing and, most importantly, loving family of writers, her grandmother went from being a vibrant woman to a recumbent recluse and how the years damaged her father, who seemed perfect; her beautiful mother; and her adorable brothers. You can't turn away from the truth because it's lurid and jarring, her playwright father advises. In lesser hands, the quarrels, litigation and violence that surface might control the narrative, but even as the family copes with disappointment, financial stress, nervous breakdowns, physical illness and death, Garis's capacity for conveying the family's vibrancy and vigor trumps. Garis's remarkable accomplishment in this memoir is to convey the normal, the enviable and the gothic with unsentimentalized affection, grace and painful honesty. (July)
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Garis' grandfather was the celebrated author of the Uncle Wiggily series; both grandparents pseudonymously authored many famous children's book series, including the Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift. In the large family home in Amherst, Massachusetts, her father, Roger Garis, attempted to duplicate that success, but his stumbling progress as a playwright, novelist, and magazine writer spilled over into his roles as son, husband, and father. Each failure plunged him deeper into depression, characterized by rages and drug abuse. As she watched her father sink, Garis pondered what his childhood must have been like, with a severe, overbearing mother and a father who charmed other children but had little time for him. Eventually the family lost their home (where Robert Frost was a regular visitor) as they struggled to maintain middle-class respectability in the midst of Roger's spiraling mental illness. With tenderness and sharp insight, Garis looks back on her father's slow deterioration and ponders the idyllic life portrayed in her grandparents' writing against the harsh realities of their family life. Bush, Vanessa
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Top Customer Reviews
Leslie's grandfather wrote the long-running "Uncle Wiggily" children's series, and her grandfather and grandmother also wrote, under pen names, many popular series books for children, including "The Bobbsey Twins." Their son, Leslie's father Roger, was a successful writer of magazine stories and television plays whose Broadway aspirations were cut short by the onset of severe mental illness and addiction, probably inherited from one or both of his parents. Based on some of the reviews I'd read (though not all and certainly not the ones here on Amazon), I was apprehensive that this book would be a "Mommie Dearest" type memoir and was relieved to discover it wasn't. In fact, for all her plaintive paraphrasing of the line from "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," - "We were a nice family once, weren't we?" - the book is half over before anything particularly awful happens. At that point Leslie's father develops serious symptoms of what, in hindsight, appears to be a lifelong depressive-anxiety disorder. As the father becomes drug-dependent and traipses in and out of various well-known mental institutions of the time, his children and his long-suffering wife are forced to sell their beloved house (which the author hints was probably beyond their means all along) and eventually come to grips with the family history of mental illness that appears to have visited all three generations to some degree.
To me, the biggest tragedy of this tale was that Roger Garis's illness occurred in the 1950s before the advent of Prozac and other effective treatments for mood disorders, as well as the lessening of the associated stigma. I also felt empathy for Roger's indomitable wife Mabel, who seems constantly overtaxed in her expected role as loving, supportive wife and daughter-in-law. The Mabel of today would hopefully have a career of her own and thus not be wholly dependent on an unreliable husband and her in-laws' gifts and bequests to support an outsized house, three children and herself. But in keeping with the memoir format, Leslie keeps her lens focused on the time frame in which Roger and his family were living, and her book is more about expressing the feelings and coping mechanisms of the family than in providing an impartial analysis (which would probably be difficult given that she is an affected family member, not a third party observer). Mabel and the children do fairly well with the bad hand they are dealt, and Leslie herself has a "happy ending" marriage to (of all things) a successful Broadway playwright - shades of her emotional bond with her aspiring father.
At times, Leslie and/or her mother, Roger's wife, seem to be casting about for someone or something to blame for Roger's downfall, whether that's his eccentric, domineering mother Lily (whose eccentricities and rudeness are hard to dislike once you realize that she, too, probably suffered from mental illness and overprescription of addicting drugs by her doctor) or the publisher who insisted on titling Roger's serious biography of his parents, "My Father was Uncle Wiggily". If Roger hadn't been mentally ill, probably for reasons more related to heredity than environment (as at least one of his doctors opines), these factors might have been viewed more as mere blips, perhaps even mildly humorous at times, rather than ominous roadblocks. Lily dotes on her son well into his middle age, is imperious towards her daughter-in-law, and prays incessantly and sometimes hysterically. But her behavior, while obviously upsetting at times, doesn't seem that different from many depressed Irish Catholic mothers (or mothers-in-law) of that era. Anyone who has grown up in a large Irish Catholic family probably saw some of the same. The author, to her credit, realizes that Lilian must have been a strong, intelligent, and vital young woman ahead of her time, who managed to escape a sad and mundane background and succeed as a writer/ reporter in the early 20th century when opportunities for women were few. Leslie mourns the fact that she never got to know her grandmother before illness set in and changed the energetic young woman to a querulous, sick old lady. I too would like to know more about Lilian, given that she only appears in the book for a short span of time and primarily from Roger's disturbed and negative perspective.