Edward T. WheelerNovember 19, 2007 - 11:54am0 comments
Fathers and Sons
The Autobiography of a Family
Nan A. Talese, $27.50, 480 pp.
In Fathers and Sons, Alexander Waugh tosses out the old maxim, “Know thyself!” and replaces it with “Know thy roots!” Grandson of novelist Evelyn, son of novelist Auberon, nephew of novelist Alec, Waugh tells the tale of his celebrated family’s generations with unabashed focus on the male side. As his title implies, he is open about his obsession with his male progenitors, regarding them with a paradoxical bemused respect, at once admiring and accusatory. Like Swift’s Gulliver among the Brobdingnags, Waugh recounts the monstrous as commonplace, since it emanates from men who are simply larger than life-beginning with his great-great-grandfather, the original Alexander Waugh, a surgeon known as “The Brute,” who bashes children with his stick, all the way down to Auberon, who nearly kills himself by discharging into his own body the machine gun of his armored car.
The Waugh family proves not only extraordinary in excess, but also fully self-incriminatory: letter after letter, diary entry after diary entry, novel after “thinly disguised autobiographical novel,” they expose with effortless self-regard the emotions and actions that constitute both the humor and the horror of the book. What callous dismissal of others, what egoism, what gall! Do not hazard reading Fathers and Sons with something breakable too close to you, for you’re liable to sweep a drink, a vase, or a writing table away in an explosive, laughing...