Book Description

Amazon.com Review In powerful and spirited prose, Peter Birkenhead recounts a childhood spent trying to make sense of his father, a terrifying, charismatic presence who brutalized his family physically and emotionally at the same time that he enchanted them with his passion and whimsy. An avid gun collector yet an anti-war activist, a popular economics professor and a wife-swapping nudist, a leftist and a lifelong fan of the British Empire who would occasionally don an authentic pith helmet and imitate Michael Caine?s performance as the heroic Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead in the bloody war film Zulu, he was a man who could knock his young son down the stairs one day and the next cry about putting the family?s aged dog to sleep. Such is the contradictory figure at the center of this astonishingly candid and shocking memoir. As a young adult, Birkenhead reacted to his volatile childhood by forgetting its worst moments. He adopted all the trappings of normalcy, threw himself into a career as an actor, landing parts in Broadway plays like Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound, both by Neil Simon, and found himself often playing characters who were angry at their fathers. Yet he discovered that he was sleepwalking through life, on occasion falling into rages that reminded him of his father. Then at thirty-one, eleven years after his parents? divorce, Birkenhead told his mother about his recurring dream of flying down the stairs of their house as a young boy. She revealed that it wasn?t a dream, but a memory from his early childhood of being carried rapidly down the stairs by his mom after his father had pointed a gun at them. The revelation about the dream sparked the painful yet necessary process of examining his childhood and of ultimately moving beyond it, forcing Birkenhead to finally confront his father in a way that released him and his family from this complicated legacy. Combining the terror and wit of Running with Scissors, the poignancy and sense of place of The Tender Bar, with the sparkling prose of Oh the Glory of It All, Gonville is light on its feet even as it deals in the darkest of family tales. A harrowing and often humorous story of a son coming to terms with his alternately charming, cruel, generous, and violent father. Read an excerpt for Gonville. Read more From Publishers Weekly A fraught and funny father-son memoir tells the terrible tale of growing up in the late 1960s and '70s with a gun-packing Brooklyn leftie of violent temperament. Birkenhead, an actor and journalist, was the eldest of four kids born to a Brooklyn College economics professor and his pianist-composer wife. Birkenhead's dad was a vociferous, political hothead who kept a collection of Martini-Henry guns and was prone to sudden fits of rage that were usually turned on his family in the form of punching and verbal abuse. While his mother and two younger brothers received the brunt of it, the author learned early on to deflect the anger by conflict-defusing, Dad-distracting skills. Acting in small parts in his father's summer stock theater in Hyannis, Mass. (the book is named for the father's favorite character, Gonville Bromhead, from the film Zulu, about a British lieutenant fighting in South Africa), allowed the author a happy release. Birkenhead's memoir is intensely detailed, thus the feelings magnified, and full of the blistering ambivalence of a loving son who wondered whether it would have been easier to have a dad who was all bad instead of almost good. (Mar.) Copyright ? Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Read more See all Editorial Reviews

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