In this “dazzling” (John Irving) memoir, acclaimed New Yorker staff writer Tad Friend reflects on the pressures of middle age, exploring his relationship with his dying father as he raises two children of his own.
“How often does a memoir build to a stomach-churning, I-can’t-breathe climax in its final pages? . . . Brilliant, intensely moving.”—William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Barbarian Days
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker
Almost everyone yearns to know their parents more thoroughly before they die, to solve some of those lifelong mysteries. Maybe, just maybe, those answers will help you live your own life. But life doesn’t stop to wait. In his fifties, New Yorker writer Tad Friend is grappling with being a husband and a father as he tries to grasp who he is as a son. Torn between two families, he careens between two stages in life. On some days he feels vigorous, on the brink of greatness when he plays tournament squash. On others, he feels distinctly weary, troubled by his distance from millennial sensibilities or by his own face in the mirror, by a grimace that’s so like his father’s.
His father, an erudite historian and the former president of Swarthmore College, has long been gregarious and charming with strangers yet cerebral with his children. Tad writes that “trying to reach him always felt like ice fishing.” Yet now Tad’s father, known to his family as Day, seems concerned chiefly with the flavor of ice cream in his bowl and, when pushed, interested only in reconsidering his view of Franklin Roosevelt.
Then Tad finds his father’s journal, a trove of passionate confessions that reveals a man entirely different from the exasperatingly logical father Day was so determined to be. It turns out that Tad has been self-destructing in the same way Day has—a secret each has kept from everyone, even themselves. These discoveries make Tad reconsider his own role, as a father, as a husband, and as a son. But is it too late for both of them?
Witty, searching, and profound, In the Early Times is an enduring meditation on the shifting tides of memory and the unsteady pillars on which every family rests.
A son's recollections of his father reveal much about himself in this knotty yet moving memoir. New Yorker scribe Friend (Cheerful Money) profiles his father Theodore "Day" Friend, a historian, novelist, and onetime president of Swarthmore College, always imposing and increasingly cantankerous with age. Drawing on his memories and Day's letters, journals, and private files (one of them marked "Annals of Carnality 1948 1958"), Friend draws out multigenerational resonances in his boyhood relationship with Day and his relationships with his own young children; in their love of playing squash, which measured their vitality and decline; in their separate quests to develop as writers; and in the marital strains caused by Day's infidelities and Friend's own sporadic unfaithfulness to his wife. Writing in wry and inquisitive prose, Friend crafts vibrant portraits of his relatives and evokes intimate family dynamics: the joviality and tensions of Christmas rituals, things carefully left unsaid ("In my family, questions are traditionally limited to how you slept and whether you unloaded the dishwasher"), and kids' imponderable queries ("If Jesus is one of God's helpers, and Santa is one of God's helpers, and we killed Jesus, why didn't we kill Santa?"). Out of this comes a luminous narrative of love, transgression, and forgiveness, and of the ties that bind despite chafing. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners.