For much of his life, Sonnenberg, born in 1936, founder of the literary magazine Grand Street and son of one of the best-known public relations men in America, pursued ``fastidious disengagement''--``Reading books, buying art, writing unproduced plays, seducing women.'' His memoir originates in Sonnenberg's father's home at 19 Gramercy Park, a grand private residence in Manhattan. It is his family's ``showy, extravagant'' ways that Sonnenberg tries to transcend, finding that his liberation cannot begin until his parents die. Only after the house is sold in 1980 and his parents' estates settled does he begin work on Grand Street , which makes him ``happy, content and . . . proud.'' Also impelling change in his life is multiple sclerosis, which struck Sonnenberg at age 34, and his later marriage to his third wife. This is a dizzying yet quiet book. In some respects, Sonnenberg follows in the tradition of his favorite Continental autobiographers--Nabokov, Baudelaire, Stendhal--and presents a view of an artist's reactions to a kaleidoscopic world. But he also tells a fully American tale of will--how one tries to escape inherited surroundings and prove oneself through love and work. (Aug.)
One of Sonnenberg's qualifications for membership in a literary hall of fame--a club, considering his obsessive name-dropping, he desperately wants us to believe he is already in--is his founding and editorship of Grand Street , an above-average literary journal. Much of this book is given to a heavy-handed attack on his father, a very successful PR man, and to bemoaning a life made easy by inherited wealth. Sonnenberg sounds as if he would have welcomed the political correctness of poverty. The self-directed satire and the attempts at irony usually fail, and we are left with a portrait of a spoiled brat. Moreover, some readers might be offended by his sexual bragging. This is a disappointing effort by a literary footnote.-- Vincent D. Balitas, Allentown Coll., Center Valley, Pa.