Thursday, June 21, 2012

An American Family by Peter Lefcourt

Part Of The Synopsis From Goodreads:

The sprawling narrative of five siblings, born in the 1940’s, beginning on the day John Kennedy was shot and ending on 9/11. Between these two iconic dates, we follow the fortunes, love affairs, marriages, divorces, successes and failures of the Pearls, an immigrant Polish-Jewish family, from the Lower East Side of New York, to Long Island and beyond.  

The oldest, Jackie — a charming, womanizing attorney — drifts into politics with help from the Nassau County mob. His younger brother, Michael, a gambler and entrepreneur, makes and loses fortunes riding the ebb and flow of high-risk business decisions. Their sister, Elaine, marries young and raises two children before realizing that she wants more from life than being merely a wife and mother and embarking on a new life in her forties. Their sensitive and brilliant half-brother, Stephen, deals with the growing consciousness that he is gay in an era that was not gay friendly. Stephen goes to Vietnam as a medic, comes home, becomes a writer, and survives the AIDS epidemic of the eighties. The baby of the family, Bobbie, high-strung and rebellious, gets pregnant at Woodstock, moves to San Francisco as a single mother during the “Summer of Love,” then winds up in Los Angeles as a highly-successful record producer.

When I was given the opportunity to read a new Peter Lefcourt book, I jumped at the chance.  Now granted, I've only read one of his books before, but that book is one that I've read countless times.  I can't even remember the first time I read The Dreyfus Affair, but it was love at first read.  I was enamored with the characters, the  humor, and the way the author was able to write this compelling love story but make me laugh, cry, and regain my faith in my fellow man all at the same time.  So when the chance to read An American Family came up, it was a no brainer.  I had to do it.

Once I had done it, I found myself comparing it to another book that I read for the first time when I was in the 5th grade.  If I was sick and at my grandparent's house, I would pick up whatever book was available for me to read.  Because of that, I read a lot of books I should never, ever admit to reading.  One of those was Family Album by Danielle Steel.  It was a book I fell in love with, and probably need to reread sometime soon, for a lot of the same reason I loved An American Family.

Both books follow a family through the decades as they got through trials and changes.  They both deal with the 60's counter culture and the Vietnam War.  They both focus on the individual members of the family as they grow up, fall in love, and mess up throughout their lives.  Now the families are from different ethnic, economic, and social backgrounds, but I loved them both.  But where they both hooked, then and now, is how they dealt with one of the brood  growing up gay in a culture that wasn't ready to deal with it.  both Lionel Thayer and Steven Perl are characters that will remain close to my heart for a long time to come (possible FFC posts).  Steven and Lionel, though going through different circumstances, were characters that I could find a bit of myself in.  They were the kind of characters I needed to read about as a teenager.  I needed to know that it was possible to grow up gay and know that I could live a happy life.  A lot of the books I found back then, high school, were on the opposite side of the spectrum.  So it's nice to know there are characters, written by straight men/women, who affirm being gay and not make it a burden for the character.

Now I don't want anyone to get the idea that I'm basically saying both books are identical and that if you read one, you read them both.  That's not the case at all.  The two authors have completely different styles and they focus on two different aspects of the family.  Since Danielle Steel is primarily a romance author, that's where her focus stayed throughout the book.  Family Album chronicles the love lives of the character,  and the dynamic between the family was secondary.  An American Family does the opposite.  It focuses on the dynamics between the siblings, their father, mother/stepmother, and great uncle.  It's the romantic relationships outside the main family unit that get second billing.  Of course Peter Lefcourt brings his own style and wit to An American Family that I loved in The Dreyfus Affair.  It's the way he writes those relationships that makes this a book that may remind me of another, but stands out on it's own.  You may be able to get a hint of the relationship between Nathan, the father and his second wife Marylin, from this excerpt.
Maybe Marilyn’s life hadn’t been perfect, but whose was? You made the best of things. She had married Nathan, knowing full well that he was not Prince Charming. He was almost ten years older than her and had three small kids. But he made a living and he didn’t drink. And he had brains. He could speak Polish and Yiddish, as well as English.

Nathan’s problem was that he needed to be prodded to do things. It was she who had to convince him to buy the house in Garden City, right after the birth of Roberta, in 1950. If it had been up to him, they would have stayed in the apartment in Jackson Heights and had the kids double up in the bedrooms. They had scraped together the down-payment for the $19,900 wood frame house on Stratford Drive, which was now worth close to $30,000.
I would like to thank Kate for inviting me on the BookTrib tour. Please visit the tour page to visit the other participating blogs.


bermudaonion said...

I love that time period so this sounds good to me.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I love a book that reminds you of another you loved in the past and yet stands out in it's own way. The dynamics sound interesting and I haven't read a book like this in a while. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Jill Buck said...

I remember liking Family Album as well when I was younger, either middle school or high school I guess. This sounds like a good read, thanks for brining it to our attention. My TBR list is so long now that I am fairly certain I will never read them all!