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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Memories of My Father
Watching TV

Curtis White

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To purchase Memories of My Father Watching TV

Title: Memories of My Father Watching TV
Author: Curtis White
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 157 pages
Availability: Memories of My Father Watching TV - US
Memories of My Father Watching TV - UK
Memories of My Father Watching TV - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : creative, TV-warped examination of a father-son relationship

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/8/1998 William Ferguson
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/1998 Charles B. Harris

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The complete review's Review:

       In this novel son Chris recounts his Memories of My Father Watching TV. The book's opening sets the scene:

The defining childhood memory of my father is of a man (but not just a man, of course; it is my father -- young, handsome, capable !) reclined on a dingy couch watching T.V.
       Chris and his sisters, Janey and Winny, watch too, but it is dad Carl whose being is almost entirely defined by his TV-watching. Carl is emotionally distant and apparently unwilling or unable to engage in actual communication with his family, and in these memories Chris literally recalls his father through the TV programmes they saw together, the shows themselves twisted to accommodate the family-narratives Chris wants (or needs).
       This revisionist TV-watching, in which Carl White is everything from very passive observer to actual role-player, illuminates this odd family, and particularly the father-and-son relationship, a way of coming to terms with it that also places it neatly in the cultural, social, and political context of the times (mainly the 1950s and 1960s).
       Shows from Combat to Bonanza to events like Khrushchev and Nixon's "kitchen debate" and a TV screening of The Third Man are used, each chapter focussing on a different show or event. White uses the TV programmes in a variety of ways, the book including everything from straightforward commentary (as, for example, he describes being "the only person ever to ask to see any one of the seventy-eight extant episodes of Highway Patrol" at the Wisconsin Center for Film Research) to surreally re-imagined scripts (including a "transcribed kinescope of Dotto", a quiz show he imagines his father to have been on).
       The book effectively (and occasionally horrifyingly) shows the TV of the times to be a mirror of society, while White's very distorting lens (as he twists the programmes for his purposes) makes for a generally effective social and societal critique. Nevertheless, the book sometimes feels more like cobbled together show-pieces rather than a coherent novel, White perhaps indulging in the possibilities his approach allows him more than the novel can handle.
       There are some very good, effective scenes, and the son reaching out to a father who is unable to communicate (explaining, simply: "I don't have anything to say to you") is well presented. There's also a lot of humour here, from some very sly fun to over-the-top satire; the Khrushchev chapter, in particular, works very well.
       Memories of My Father Watching TV is poignant, and admirable in its ambition. It always feels like a genuine attempt to come to terms with the father-figure, even as White occasionally flounders and drags the reader down some blind alley. It is also a very creative take on both father-son relationships and a specific era in American life and welcome simply as that, a different way of story-telling.
       Those who prefer their narratives straightforward probably won't enjoy this, but those willing to indulge in more fanciful invention (as well as those nostalgic for the not-so-great forgotten TV shows of these times) should certainly have a look.

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Memories of My Father Watching TV: Reviews: Curtis White: Other books by Curtis White under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       American author Curtis White teaches at Illinois State University and is president of the Center for Book Culture.

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