What did it mean to become American in the mid-20th century? Peter Lefcourt goes beyond assimilation to take a nostalgic and dramatic look at what makes us truly American in AN AMERICAN FAMILY: A Novel (Amazon e-book; $3.99; May 1, 2012). Lefcourt, known for his best-selling comic novels -- The Deal, The Dreyfus Affair, Di & I, Abbreviating Ernie, The Woody, Eleven Karens and The Manhattan Project -- takes a more serious approach here as he revives the settings, styles and sentiments of the 20th century.
Roots, The Godfather, Angela’s Ashes, The Joy Luck Club, My Antonia, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Middlesex are just a few of the great family sagas that have evoked our shared immigrant experience. AN AMERICAN FAMILY is told through the shifting points of view of the five Perl siblings born in the 1940’s, between the two iconic dates of the last fifty years: the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the catastrophe of 9/11. Within this time frame the Perl family is swept up in the sweeping cultural changes of those years: the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, rock and roll, drugs, women’s liberation, and the civil rights movement.
During this turbulent time, we meet the Perls -- Meyer, the immigrant tailor with a weakness for Yiddish theater actresses, whose nephew, Nathan, would become a fabric cutter on Seventh Avenue and the patriarch of the clan; Jackie, the young lawyer with a weakness for women, alcohol and Italian-American “clients”; Michael, the business genius intent on building his fortune; Elaine, the married school teacher who wants more from her life than being merely a wife and mother; Stephen, the brilliant and sensitive artist who struggles with his talent and his sexuality; and Roberta, the rebel hungry to experience perhaps a little too much of what life has to offer.
Lefcourt reaches back to his own family and memories to inform this saga. “Though this is not an autobiographical novel, it is, in a larger sense, a ‘cultural autobiography’ – specifically, that of Jewish-Americans born in the 1940’s. Our experiences are similar to that of all immigrants – Italian, Irish, Vietnamese, Iranian, etc. – as we all navigate the tide of our new culture.” Peter Lefcourt is a refugee from the trenches of Hollywood, where he has distinguished himself as a writer and producer of film and television. Among his credits are “Cagney and Lacey,” for which he won an Emmy Award; “Monte Carlo,” in which he managed to keep Joan Collins in the same wardrobe for 35 pages; the relentlessly sentimental “Danielle Steel’s Fine Things,” and the underrated and hurried “The Women of Windsor,” the most sordid, and thankfully last, miniseries about the British Royal Family. He is a 30 handicap golfer, drinks too much good wine, and has never been awarded the Nobel Prize for anything.
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My Take on the Book
While I am not Jewish, this book makes the experience of being Jewish in the 1940's tangible. You can hear, see and feel what it is like to be a part of this family. The book is so detailed, and you truly are drawn into the lives of the characters. While I have heard that many of the author's previous books have been more satirical in nature, this book was a great portrait of a family struggling to make it in America. The author does an amazing job at developing his characters and the plot of the overall story. Moreover, this story seemed to me to be similar to many immigrant stories and with my family and many families being immigrants to America, this story is really a portrait of an "American" family and what it means to be American. This is a story that all should not only read, but moreover should experience!
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