An astonishing, devastating memoir of a 1930s American childhood.
Born in the 1920s to young, bohemian parents, Paula Fox was left at birth in a Manhattan orphanage. Rescued by her grandmother, Fox eventually landed with a gentle, poor minister in upstate New York. Uncle Elwood, as he came to be known, gave Paula a secure and loving home for many years, but her parents constantly resurface.
Her father is a good-looking, hard-drinking Hollywood screenwriter (among his credits is 'The Last Train To Madrid', which Graham Greene declared was "the worst movie I ever saw"), and her mother, icily glamorous, is given to almost psychotic bursts of temper that punctuate a deep, disturbing indifference.
They exercise, probably without even realising it, a sort of drip-drip cruelty, a cruelty by stealth, upon Paula, as they shuttle her from one exotic place to another, from a Cuban sugar plantation to Hollywood to Montreal to Florida, from relative to relative, never spending more than a few moments with her, maybe two days, maybe two weeks, before they leave her and move on.
Paula Fox has a voice of great clarity and simplicity and this is an incredibly powerful, straight-to-the-heart piece of writing. There is also dark and devastating detail - the description of Uncle Elwood's peevish sister, who knits in wool "the colour of blood and urine", for instance - which will be gently, but precisely, lobbed in to pull you up and unsettle on.
A New York Times Best Book of 2001.