Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

4th January 2012

*I received this book from a publicist author in exchange for an honest review.

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.

  • I felt that way about Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed. Her constant whining about how horrible it was to run from house to house while she was a housekeeper and when she worked at what I assume is Wal-Mart got on my nerves. People do what they have to to survive and while I sympathize to an extent with having to give up the good things in life, I sometimes get irritated that people don’t appreciate what they do have instead of concentrating on those things they don’t (though I am guilty of this myself sometimes, I am crazy enough to put it on paper for the world to read).

    I think you gave an honest review and even pointed out some things you liked about the book despite not caring for it much. Nice review!

  • I felt that way about Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed. Her constant whining about how horrible it was to run from house to house while she was a housekeeper and when she worked at what I assume is Wal-Mart got on my nerves. People do what they have to to survive and while I sympathize to an extent with having to give up the good things in life, I sometimes get irritated that people don’t appreciate what they do have instead of concentrating on those things they don’t (though I am guilty of this myself sometimes, I am crazy enough to put it on paper for the world to read).

    I think you gave an honest review and even pointed out some things you liked about the book despite not caring for it much. Nice review!

    • “(though I am guilty of this myself sometimes, I am not crazy enough to put it on paper for the world to read.)”

      Yep – this is my sentiment. I get that it was rough for the author. But whining is whining, and you better have a really good reason for me to want to read your whining.

      Thanks so much! Wasn’t my favorite, but still not a bad book.

  • I must say, it’s hard to feel bad for someone’s experience when a “girl Friday” job might be a dream. In fact, I quite think a position within the publishing world would be a wonderful transition from my corporate job. I struggle to find the sympathy for the change, such as in this case.

    Your review is insightful and validated. It’s unfortunate to have to dislike a memoir, as you pointed out, since you are dealing with a very intimate look at someone’s personal experiences, but I appreciate the honest perspective in this challenging position. Great review!

    • Pretty much what I thought. I get it was a different time period, but plenty of women worked in the 50s. You do what you have to.

      And thanks. It was tough to review something so personal, but it’s like anything else – not everyone will like all books/people/dishes/TV shows.

  • Thanks for the honest review. The title is an instant hook, but I too would have been annoyed with the woe is me sentiment. My mom was a nurse at a small local clinic and my father worked for the police department, and with four kids it was a tough go. I can’t even imagine having grown up with a maid!

    • Isn’t it a pretty great title? I thought the same thing, but yeah – just not for me in the long run.

  • Iancron

    Hi Jenn, thanks for taking the time to read and review my book. I’m eager to improve at my craft and pay close attention to the comments of those who don’t connect with it. I wish you every good thing in 2012.

    All the best,

    Ian Morgan Cron

    • Ian:

      Thank you for the comment. In terms of your craft, I thought the writing was spot on.

      Best of luck to you in all you do.