At last, a memoir for grown-ups
New Yorker grandee Roger Angell gracefully narrates his own life story.
Even before "A Million Little Pieces," the word "memoir" had acquired a sordid undertone in America. The genre's bestsellers have come to seem a gruesome game of one-upmanship, where authors trot out ever more horrifying revelations of the abuse they either survived or inflicted on themselves or others.
Here to remind readers that life is more than damage endured is Roger Angell, a prominent baseball writer and longtime editor at The New Yorker. His new memoir, Let Me Finish, is a collection of personal reminiscences of his childhood, service in World War II, and work at the magazine - along with his love of sailing, movies, and long car trips.
What makes the book stand out is not the grace and ease of the writing, although both are abundant, nor the form, although the freedom from a chronological timeline is a blessing more memoirists should employ. Nor is it necessarily the topics chosen: Anybody picking up the book already knows that Americans love to drive, that baseball is the national pastime for a reason, that movies were a psychological mainstay during the Great Depression, and that boys love snakes.
What's so lovely is the utter lack of bitterness and self-pity with which Angell discusses even the tough events of his life, such as his dad's infidelities, his parents' divorce, and the custody arrangement that separated the 9-year-old from his mother.
He lived with his father, Edward, except on weekends and for a few weeks during summers. The affairs, he writes, were "what had done them in, but my mother could never bring herself to say that she had left us kids behind, along with the marriage, in order to join [E.B.] White. Her tale stopped at that point, for all her life. Family memoirists, caught somewhere between feelings of disloyalty and the chic contemporary mode that demands that we tell all and affix damages, don't take this stuff lightly. Neither could the principals."
Katherine Sergeant Angell was a highly respected fiction editor at The New Yorker (Angell eventually inherited both her job and her office), and she remarried humorist and children's writer E.B. White, known as Andy to family and friends. Angell's dad was a successful lawyer, so his childhood was filled with material privilege and some amazing opportunities for name-dropping. (Über foreign correspondent Emily Hahn brought Angell a macaque for a pet when he was 12, just for starters.)