This was recommended to me and I in turn recommended reading A Wolf at the Table. I have been all set to give a fairly blistering review given that I was so not impressed with this story. I’m still giving it a 2-star rating, only in that he made the reader’s endure almost to the very end the source of his pain and reason why he became such a raging alcoholic and sad, pathetic man.
I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to continue reading this story until the end. I felt that the only point coming across loud and clear was Goolrick’s incessant complaints about his parent’s alcoholism. Then it felt as though he couldn’t figure out if he hated or loved them for it as he spent so much of his story romanticizing about their alcoholism! And romanticizing how later he became such a raging alcoholic himself. I just rolled my eyes and endured on as he would describe times of his drunkeness like falling off an airport stool, passing out in his room, etc. All I kept wondering was, “Where’s the abuse here?” and I’m not feeling his story warrants sympathy from me, at this point.
Goolrick changes between romancing how wonderful cocktail hour was in their home growing up, from talking about how wonderful it was when their mother would twirl her taffeta evening dresses and the glorious sound of the ice-cracker signalling the start of cocktail hour in the home. He spends a great deal of time stating how remiss we are in our current times, that we don’t have the flair these men had pouring drinks with their snappy names at house parties that were a never-ending spectacle in his home. Then he’ll lament that his parents were so drunk most of the time they didn’t pay attention to him. As she was once yelling at her son, “The tirade went on so long my father had to refill their drinks several times, the ice tapper tapping out its familiar sound.” (page 80).
For the most of this book he comes across as a petulant, whiny and bitter, angry man that blames his parent’s alcoholism for his own. There were a great number of times when I just declared Goolrick as the biggest a-hole. And yet, he would continue to recall his parent’s drinking in almost a wistful manner. I was definitely not moved, touched or haunted. A review on the back claims, “Goolrick is clearly a victim of his parents’ brutal abuse.” Excuse me? Brutal? You want to read about abuse and neglect? Read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. You want to see abuse and neglect and someone that can overcomes such harrowing living conditions to lead a successful life?
The story continues on in much the same vain. He wrote a book about his parents and described a moment where his mother was so drunk she had burned a cigarette hole in her pretty party dress. His parent’s didn’t like that. “There was a family law that we didn’t talk about the family outside the world, didn’t reveal the slightest crack in the facade, and I had broken the law. I couldn’t afford to have it typed in New York, so I had a red-haired girl I’d grown up with type it at home. I paid her a hundred dollars. My mother kept bugging her, so she showed the first hundred pages to my parents, and that was when all hell broke loose. The phone calls stopped. The letters stopped, my mother’s frequent and charming letters. My father had already disinherited me – not that he had any money to leave, but, two years before, I had been living in Greece and I wanted to borrow three hundred dollars to get home. I wrote to my father, who responded that I was a disgusting lazy pig and “never in my lifetime or after will you receive a penny of my money.” See? I had paid for my own college education, with scholarships and borrowed money, I had won a fellowship to study in Europe, won it twice in fact, and still I was the one who was a disgusting pig.” (page 75)
“How did they go on making ends meet, giving us birthday parties, making marvelous cakes shaped like lambs and covered with coconut for Easter…helping us with the intricacies of algebra, watching us as we made grades that would make any parent proud…my sister…she was so beautiful, and giving her riding lessons, and sending my brother and sister off to dancing school, my sister in white gloves, where they learned to waltz and fox-trot and do the box step, but not me, leaving me out of it, leaving me to watch as my friends went to dancing school and I didn’t, when all the nice children in town went to dancing school in suits and ties and crinolines and white gloves when they were twelve..(page 146).
And then, on page 165, with only 1/3 left in this book that has spent 164 pages driveling and whining (in my opinion) he lays it out to the viewers WHY he’s the man he is today. After romantically telling us the story of how drunk his parents can get, he (finally?? Is that right to say?) states a time when he was four years old, when he was sleeping in the same bed as his mother and father and his father is so drunk, he “accidently” (again I don’t want to make it sound flippant) has sex with his son, mistakingly thinking he’s with his wife. This never happens again and his parents absolutely refuse to acknowledge, explain or deal with it. And herein lays the horror and confusion for Goolrick. For the rest of his life, he remains a confused, sad man that cannot maintain any type of relationship. He is completely confused, angered and bitter. And you can’t blame him for that.
This is indeed, a horrible moment in his very young life, but I cannot seem to get past this feeling that he went and approached his autobiography “all wrong”. If that makes any sense at all. I’m sorry, it was hard to muster as much sympathy as this horrible incident deeply deserves, since he had just presented himself in 165 pages in such a way that makes it hard for me to express deep sympathy for him. Sorry Robert. I truly, truly am, but your autobiography, as it was written for The End of the World as We Know it, fails to illicit this strong feeling of remorse. (Wow, I really hope that came across right.)
The book itself, not his life, is still a 2-star read.