The author of two National Book Award winners (The Rothschilds
and A Nervous Splendor
), Viennese-born Fred Morton started life as Fritz Mandelbaum, his name Americanized once his family, fleeing the Nazis, began a tentative new life in New York City. In this deeply sentimental and slightly smug memoir, Morton charts his rise from obscurity to fame: from his teenage idolization of fellow Austrian-American immigrant Fred Astaire, to the tedium of a summer job as a Manhattan baker's assistant; his youthful encounter with the sneeringly patronizing Vladimir Nabokov; his emergence as a successful journalist and writer, interviewing Thomas Mann and spending Christmas with the Rothschilds; to his feelings of alienation and emotional vulnerability among high society at an elite skiing lodge. Throughout Morton evokes his loving, dignified family as his emotional touchstone, a family that remained distinctly Viennese despite their best efforts to Americanize. The other touchstone is his wife, Marcia, although Morton's writing about her can be cloying and idealized. While Morton's professional remembrances are full of anecdotal and incidental detail, his limpid, stoic voice is overly formal and distant. His memoir suffers from an overall flatness, neither successfully representing the people around him nor compellingly evoking the layered consciousness of past selves. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra.