Anne Fadiman is one of my favourite writers; sadly for me, she has very few books, so I was delighted to find that she’d at last produced another one. This memoir about her father is a poignant journey to find and enshrine the meaning of his life for her and for others.
Clifton Fadiman is an author I knew very little about till now. He was prolific and highly present in the American world of letters and radio, and yet much of his writing is out-of-print now, so stumbling across it is not likely. For those who knew him, his distinguishing characteristics seem to have been his simultaneous and nearly equal loves of his family, grammar, and wine. He was a true oenophile, enjoying the experience of wine with all of its accoutrements – the cellar, the catalogue, the history, the pairings, the joys.
I greatly enjoyed this brief memoir about Anne’s father, although I had the sense of several things missing due to the emphasis on the wine parts of his life. For example, her mother plays a transient role in the story, and yet it is clear she was much loved by him and a big part of his life (and had an interesting and remarkable life in her own right); similarly short shrift is given to her brothers, although she make it clear several times that this is the story of her relationship with her father, so perhaps it is appropriate that she doesn’t speak for them. His extensive and influential career in American writing and publishing is covered, but mostly to place events in time and to provide a backdrop for wine stories; while this is appropriate to the trope of this memoir (all about the wine), it leaves a feeling that details are missing.
The writing is excellent here, as it always is with Anne Fadiman, and the brief quotes and references to Clifton’s writing will make me seek it out where I might find it. Overall, it is a poignant and personal paean to a well-loved father from a well-loved daughter, and a bit of a treat to read a family story who’s only great tragedy is (spoiler) that the daughter doesn’t like wine.
4. A book published in 2017
8. A book by a female author
23. A book that is a memoir
25. A book about food