An award-winning poet offers a multi-generational portrait of an American family--weaving together the lives of his ancestors, his parents, and his own coming of age in the 60s and 70s in the wake of his father's suicide, in this superbly written, "fiercely honest" (Nick Flynn) memoir. Read more...
An award-winning poet offers a multi-generational portrait of an American family--weaving together the lives of his ancestors, his parents, and his own coming of age in the 60s and 70s in the wake of his father's suicide, in this superbly written, "fiercely honest" (Nick Flynn) memoir.
The fifth of eight children, Chris Forhan was born into a family of silence. He and his siblings learned, without being told, that certain thoughts and feelings were not to be shared. On the evenings his father didn't come home, the rest of the family would eat dinner without him, his whereabouts unknown, his absence pronounced but not mentioned. And on a cold night in 1973, just before Christmas, Forhan's father killed himself in the carport.
Forty years later, Forhan "bravely considers the way he is and is not his father's son" (Larry Watson), digging into his family's past and finding within each generation the same abandonment, loss, and silence in which he was raised. Like Ian Frazier in Family or Frank McCourt in Angela's Ashes, Forhan shows his family members as both a part and a product of their time. My Father Before Me is a family history, an investigation into a death, and a stirring portrait of growing up in an Irish Catholic childhood, all set against a backdrop of America from the Great Depression to the Ramones.
Marrying the literary scope of memoirists Geoffrey Wolff and J.R. Moehringer with the intensity of family novels like The Corrections and We Are Not Ourselves, My Father Before Me is the kind of epic, immersive memoir that comes along once in a decade.
- ISBN-13: 9781501131264
- ISBN-10: 1501131265
- Publisher: Scribner Book Company
- Publish Date: June 2016
- Page Count: 320
- Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-18
- Reviewer: Staff
A father's suicide prompts his son to break the silences in his family's history in this luminous memoir. Pushcart Prize–winning poet Forhan (Black Leapt In) was 13 in 1973 when his father committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and eight children but no suicide note. Forhan pieces together the traumatic childhoods of his parents, both of whom were abandoned by their fathers and grew up impoverished and insecure in the Great Depression; the experience, he conjectures, pushed his father into a taciturn, emotionally repressed, career-oriented style of manhood that starved his soul and prevented him from getting appropriate care for his scarred psyche. Much of the book is Forhan's vivid recreation of his suburban Seattle childhood, rich in details of kid culture; the small humiliations experienced by a reserved, inward boy; and the wracking tensions he felt from his parents' marriage. He also tells of his feckless adolescence and attempt at a career in broadcast journalism before becoming a poet. Forhan's characterization of his father's plight as an inability to talk about feelings sometimes feels strained—his father clearly suffered from a serious mental illness—but he movingly conveys the quiet, painful enigmas that people can pose to their families. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (June)
Recalling shaky memories of a lost father
Chris Forhan’s aching, lyrical memoir excavates both a lost father and a lost era in American history. The middle child in an Irish family of eight, Forhan came of age in the 1960s and ’70s. He recalls spirograph toys and the Beatles, Jell-O and tuna casserole, JFK and the moon landing. These details are important because they help Forhan cinematically recreate the family from which his father absented himself, ultimately by suicide in 1973.
Who was Ed Forhan? This is the central, animating question driving My Father Before Me, a mystery that continues to haunt his adult children. Their family life was riddled with silences: Where did Ed go when he didn’t come home at night? Was his apparent mental illness a result of unchecked diabetes, childhood trauma, bipolar disorder or all (or none) of those factors? His son Chris interviews his mother and siblings, and looks through family photos and newspaper clippings to find answers.
An award-winning poet, Forhan writes with grace and intelligence about the very process of constructing a memoir. How can he trust his memories of his father, these flashes that may reflect desire more than fact? By bringing in the voices of his siblings and mother, he fleshes out this portrait of a haunted and wounded man, adding heft and color to the fragments of memory. Forhan learns more about Ed’s tragic and lonely childhood, one of the many things the family never spoke of directly.
Ultimately this memoir documents four generations of fathers and sons and tracks the patterns of damaging emotional behavior passed down through the family. Now that Forhan is himself a father to young sons, it is essential to recollect his father, if only to free himself from the burden of his influence. Fortunately for the reader, his journey is beautifully and resonantly captured here.