In this darkly funny, surprising memoir, the original “Lit Girl” and author of the era-defining Slaves of New York considers her life in and outside of New York City, from the heyday of the 1980s to her life today in a tiny upstate town that proves that fact is always stranger than fiction.
With the publication of her acclaimed short story collection Slaves of New York, Tama Janowitz was crowned the Lit Girl of New York. Celebrated in rarified literary and social circles, she was hailed, alongside Mark Lindquist, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jay McInerney, as one of the original “Brat Pack” writers—a wave of young minimalist authors whose wry, urbane sensibility captured the zeitgeist of the time, propelling them to the forefront of American culture.
In Scream, her first memoir, Janowitz recalls the quirky literary world of young downtown New York in the go-go 1980s and reflects on her life today far away from the city indelible to her work. As in Slaves of New York and A Certain Age, Janowitz turns a critical eye towards life, this time her own, recounting the vagaries of fame and fortune as a writer devoted to her art. Here, too, is Tama as daughter, wife, and mother, wrestling with aging, loss, and angst, both adolescent (her daughter) and middle aged (her own) as she cares for a mother plagued by dementia, battles a brother who questions her choices, and endures the criticism of a surly teenager.
Filled with a very real, very personal cast of characters, Scream is an intimate, scorching memoir rife with the humor, insight, and experience of a writer with a surgeon’s eye for detail, and a skill for cutting straight to the strangest parts of life.
Recounting her glory days as one of New York's bright young writers in the 1980s and her more recent struggles caring for her ailing mother, novelist and short story writer Janowitz slides too often into melodrama and griping in this tiresome memoir. Janowitz grew up in a toxic family environment even after her parents divorced; she lived with her mother and brother in various spots around western Massachusetts. She paints an unpleasant portrait of her pot-smoking, sex-loving psychiatrist father, who berated her no matter what she did. Achieving the fame she did with her 1986 short story collection, Slaves of New York, came at the cost of myriad rejections and even the embarrassment of having to submit work under a man's name ("Tom A. Janowitz") in an admittedly successful effort to get published in the Paris Review. Throwaway anecdotes about her time spent in London (where she met the Sex Pistols) and New York in the era of Studio 54 and Andy Warhol are overshadowed by the whiny tone she slips into when recalling, often repetitiously, the past decade or so of life in upstate New York, far removed culturally and geographically from her previous pad in Brooklyn. The most affecting moments come when Janowitz reflects on her now deceased poet mother's impact on her life and career, but these flashes of insight are lost in the mishmash of this poorly constructed work.