“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.)
"The Critic’s Daughter holds so many joys in store for you: The joy of disappearing into a finely crafted world—in this case, of Gilman’s mind, heart, and personal history. The joy of encountering a text sprinkled with insights, like so many pearls. But most of all, the joy of basking in Priscilla Gilman’s capacious love—for her father, for her family, and for you, her reader."
"The Critic’s Daughter is first and foremost a very touching love story about a father, a daughter, and their unbreakable bond. Priscilla Gilman writes with eloquence and absolute candor of her late father Richard Gilman, the esteemed, brilliant, but deeply troubled drama and literary critic.… An unforgettable read, The Critic’s Daughter is as entertaining as it is moving."
"The Critic’s Daughter is an exquisite and rare example of how the memoir needs as much inventiveness in scope and form as our most lush fiction and poetry. Priscilla Gilman writes sentences I never see coming, and those sentences splinter into a textured model of how to write about—and through—art, perpetual discovery, and parenting. I’ve read few books in my life as skillfully executed and willfully conceived as The Critic’s Daughter. This should not work. But my goodness, it just does."
"Beautiful: honest, raw, careful, soulful, brave and incredibly readable."
"The daughter of an unsparing critic, Priscilla Gilman has written a book her father would have deeply admired: a tender, unflinching memoir that is also a searching reflection on the relationship between criticism and love. The father she lost is vividly captured in this moving, gracefully written, bracingly honest book."
"The Critic's Daughter is an exquisite love song, a riveting story, a book for our time. Any daughter with a father, anyone who has been part of a family, anyone who has struggled with loving, anyone interested in literary criticism, or the theater, or life, this is a book for you."
The daughter of drama critic Richard Gilman and literary agent Lynn Nesbit reckons with her father's bumpy life trajectory.
"I lost my father for the first time when I was ten years old," writes Gilman, author of a previous memoir, The Anti-Romantic Child, referring to her parents' divorce. Their separation ended an idyllic early childhood among the New York literati of the 1970s, lit by her father's devotion to his two daughters and his love of make-believe, storytelling, and children's literature. His impersonation of Sesame Street's Grover was a beloved lifelong party trick, one of many endearing rituals of his "religion of childhood." "As his daughter, I have the privilege—or the burden—of making the final assessment of my father's life," Gilman writes, and then wonders, "Can I make an act of bracing honesty also an act of love?" She certainly has done so here. For those who don't know her father's work—as a critic and professor at Yale Drama School, he was a supporter of iconoclastic theater and the author of a landmark book on Chekhov—Gilman provides a detailed portrait of his career, including many quotes from his writing, which famously combined the personal and the academic in densely nested clauses. After her mother "bitterly divorced him and remained hardened against him," he went through a long period of personal and financial trials, through which the author and her sister bravely tried to buoy him, until his third wife, a wonderful Japanese woman, appeared to save the day. The cruelty of Gilman's still-very-much-alive mother during these decades is disturbingly evident, which makes the inclusion in the final pages of an exchange about the marriage that occurred during the writing of the memoir "a balm like no other.” The narrative is passionate, resonant, and beautifully written, with just a few forgivably maudlin moments.
Evokes both a uniquely brilliant and troubled man and the poignantly relatable essence of the father-daughter connection.