cover image The Critic’s Daughter: A Memoir

The Critic’s Daughter: A Memoir

Priscilla Gilman. Norton, $28.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-39365-132-4

“I am haunted by my father,” writes Gilman (The Anti-Romantic Child), daughter of literary power couple Richard Gilman and Lynn Nesbit, in this poignant memoir. As a Yale drama professor and critic at such publications as the Nation and Newsweek, the author’s father “was the judge and they the judged,” Gilman writes—they being the literati who swilled cocktails and debated books and politics in the Central Park West apartment he shared with Nesbit, a prominent literary agent. In 1980, Gilman’s parents divorced, and for several years, her father struggled with depression and moved from one seedy apartment to another. Meanwhile, Nesbit disclosed to the preteen Gilman her father’s erotic predilections and infidelities. As a result, Gilman writes, “she both turned me against my father and turned me toward him.” Like her mother before her, Gilman began to feel “responsible for his stability.” After his death and years into therapy, Gilman considers whether her father’s adultery—described in his own memoir as prolific, and having included affairs with his students—was a result of her mother marrying him lovelessly, rebounding from “one of her first clients and her first great love,” the writer Donald Barthelme. Bibliophiles will enjoy the literary cameos (Joan Didion, Toni Morrison) and reflections on literature, but Gilman’s wrenching recollections of marital, and familial, dissolution are near-universal. This is an eye-opening testament to the lasting wounds of divorce. (Feb.)