Ah, memoirs. I absolutely have a love-hate relationships with you. Sometimes you are so smart and elucidate universal truths in life. Other times you allow a flow of emotion similar to the effects of watching a Greek tragedy. Yet other times you make me want to swat you, like an errant fly buzzing about the room.
It is also incredibly difficult to review a memoir because you are taking an intensely intimate work and critiquing it. I can imagine it would be difficult for an memoirist to separate critiques of the writing from the self (although arguably, this is always difficult).
So let me set it up for you: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me is about Ian Cron’s life with his alcoholic father…who also happened to work for the CIA for many years. It starts with Cron’s father’s job in movies in London and tracks the family through the highs and lows of his family and his father’s problems. My issue with the book, and I admit up front that this is my own personal hangup, is that Cron talks a lot about not having any money after his father gets fired from his movie job in London. Except that in my book, having a nanny throughout your childhood ain’t poor. Ordinarily I could overlook this, but Cron makes much of this in the first third of the book, and it felt incredibly insensitive to someone who grew up struggling.
For example, this passage drove me crazy:
As my father’s drinking and depression augured downward, my mother was forced to go to work as a secretary in a publishing company – what was called a “girl Friday” – to pay the bills and keep food on our table. My mother grew up in a wealthy and highly regarded family on Long Island. Only a few years earlier, she had been touted in British tabloids as one of the most beautiful American women on the London social scene. Now she was a personal assistant to a publishing executive.
Say it ain’t so! A personal assistant! How horrid. What must the neighbors think? I mean, I hate to be snarky, but if you grew up without much, Cron’s complaints sound like a whole lot of whining. My parents were both teachers and did their absolute best with the income they had and the many medical bills my mother incurred. We grew up in a very happy household, so I was rich in that way, but there were many times we struggled quite a lot financially. The author goes on to say,
With some income flowing in, our financial condition began to stabilize, if not inch up. It would be a long time before we could sign “Happy Days Are Here Again,” but one or two green shoots were peeking up through the dirt.
I’m sure leaving the privileged lifestyle he had always known was rough, but overall, the “poor is me” narrative got old. Also, I think Cron has a highly-idealicized picture of family life, and he refers to family sitcoms throughout the book. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people whose lives would live up to that. It’s not real.
All of that said, and my own personal feelings aside, Cron had some funny moments. They were mostly one-liners, but they worked. As for the alcoholism, I fortunately don’t have those experiences, but the scenarios Cron lays out are scary, and I cannot imagine them as my own kind of “normal.” His own problems with alcohol and drugs are honest and helpful in discussing the cycle of abuse. The publicist who contacted me also indicated that though Jesus is in the title, the religious aspect isn’t overwhelming, and I’d agree with that. Religion and spiritualism are not something Cron comes by naturally, but its importance to him and his sobriety is undeniable.
Though this didn’t work for me, if you like memoirs or personal experiences with alcoholism, you might want to pick this one up.