Truth Comes in Blows: A Memoir

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9780393046793: Truth Comes in Blows: A Memoir

An autobiography of the literary editor describes his childhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey, his conflicted relationship with his parents, and the influence of the Depression, World War II, and his Jewish heritage

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Review:

Ted Solotaroff's memoir of growing up with his father takes on a number of time-tested themes: paternal rage, the American Jew, a boy's love for his mother, an intellectual coming of age. But as one might expect from an editor and critic as prominent as Solotaroff, it does so in language so elegant and perceptive as to make these all seem utterly fresh. Granted, he has the decidedly mixed blessing of a subject who is larger than life, a father who rages the way through these pages like a character straight out of Shakespeare. Solotaroff Senior was a tyrant, a bully, a pathological miser, the kind of man who would "take the tender part of the steak, the breast of the chicken, and then push the platter over to Mom to cut up what was left. 'Eat bread, kids,' he'd say. 'Don't fill up on meat.'" But this is hardly a '90s-style victim memoir; Solotaroff doesn't dwell on his father's physical violence, and his analysis of his father's crippling fears and jealousies is scrupulously fair--even, at times, tender. A series of equally vivid portraits round out the book: his mother, a sensitive, cultured woman who was terrorized into passivity; the aunts, uncles, and teachers who aided young Solotaroff's intellectual development and showed him that a different way of living was possible. But again and again, it's to his father that Solotaroff returns:

Who was this man, who, even in death, could play my spirit like a pipe? How had the holes been put in that he'd fingered? How had I managed to keep him from breaking it, as he had tried to do?
In tracing the enigma that was his father to its source, Solotaroff reveals much about America itself, its historical wounds and its possibilities for redemption. --Mary Park

From the Author:

When we want to find out about someone, we often ask, 'What is his or her story?' Through this we're asking our informant to cut through a lot of extraneous information and get to the plot line: the essential or at least characteristic experiences that tell who he is and one or two of the basic continuities that make her cohere. At any rate, that's how I came to understand my purpose in writing this book. In fact, I ended up pasting a little sign over my computer that read, 'It's a story, stupid.' By telling it, I hoped to discover the early, basic part of how I came to be who I am.

I began to write what became Truth Comes in Blows the day after my father's funeral, to find out the answers to the questions I pose to myself at the end of Part One. To put these questions another way, what had given my father his power over me and how had I resisted it? This, in turn, led me to think about my allies along the way, beginning with my mother and her family, and also about the culture of sports and schools and books that became major refuges and led into the wider culture of the Depression and World War II, of which I was also a child.

One of the reasons I kept writing and revising this book was that I kept discovering things. Perhaps the main one was the truth of a paradox that Proust had observed: the more one becomes individual, the more family traits emerge.

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