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Memories of My Father Watching TV [Paperback]

Curtis White
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 1 1998 American Literature Series

Only in America, and only since the 1950s, has the watching of television become the communal ground, often the battleground, of fathers and sons, as well as the place through which the rest of family experience is played out, fought out, remembered, misremembered, and made into myth and trauma--the shows watched and loved, the shows that became the trigger for resentments, the box of shadowy caves that washed over mute bodies in the "TV room" (formerly known as the "living room"). In the background, as children fit or did not fit into the family mythology of good and bad TV, their budding imaginations recorded every hurt, near hurt, or imagined hurt which silent, depressed, nearly catatonic fathers could inflict upon them.

Memories of My Father Watching TV has as its protagonists television shows, around which the personalities of family members are shaped. The shows have a life of their own and become the arena of shared experience. And in Curtis White's hands, they become a son's projections of what he wants for himself and his father through characters in "Combat," "Highway Patrol," "Bonanza," and other television shows (and one movie) from the 1950s and '60s.

Comic in many ways, Memories is finally a sad lament of a father-son relationship that is painful and tortured, displayed against a background of what they most shared, the watching of television, the universal American experience.


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From Amazon

In this darkly funny novel about family in the 1950s and '60s, television serves as both stage and star. It is a capricious god that provokes and shapes the family members and their relationships with each other, particularly the relationship (or lack thereof) between father and son. ("My father has been in a cataleptic trance before the TV since November of 1963. I think there was something hypnotic in the Kennedy funeral procession.")

Instead of being punished by his own feelings of guilt for his neglect of his family, Dad is figuratively punished by imagining that the cast of Combat is pursuing him. In the text, however, the scene of his pursuit appears to be real. In his here's-what-it-means-to-be-a-man role, Dad eats the cheapest no-name brand of liverwurst, Vienna sausages right out of the can, uncooked Spam, and Cheez Whiz--aerosol--sprayed straight from the container. All of it is consumed in front of the TV, of course.

These hours in front of the idiot box illuminate the tragic truth of the stuff that many father/son relationships are made of: silence but for media mentoring. Curtis White brilliantly depicts the family unit transformed into rage and reruns. --Susan Swartwout

From Publishers Weekly

Not to be mistaken for TV Guide, White's (Anarcho-Hindu: The Damned, Weird Book of Fate) witty collection does revolve around a night of TV viewing, but these 1950s serials have never been seen on prime timeAthanks to their adult content, their black humor and their tendency to trap the narrator's father inside them. In "Combat," Dad's a bridge; in "Dotto" (a quiz show like the $64,000 Question), he's a cheating contestant; in "Sea Hunt," he's a missing diver. Reminiscent of the technique employed by Robert Coover in A Night at the Movies, the stories move between the audienceAin this case, the family of a boy named Curtis WhiteAand the demented, autonomous television set. Of course, the detritus of conformist 1950s popular culture has been preferred fodder for satirists since R. Crumb. That's the one problem with this virtuosic spoof. Although the satire is on target, it is very familiar, not least from today's TV: even the lamest shows have learned to make ironic reference to their own stereotypes. White is at his best when he balances riffs on, say, the Kitchen Debate between Nixon and Khrushchev with his own fictionalized autobiography, bringing pathos to what would otherwise amount to shooting fictional fish (or, perhaps, plastic ducks) in a barrel. (June) FYI: Half of Dalkey Archives' May issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction will be devoted to essays on White.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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5.0 out of 5 stars Remember the "test" pattern? Dec 18 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Buy it. Read it. Savor it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, irreverant, and sad. Feb. 6 2002
Format:Paperback
Hilarious, irreverant, highly original, and deeply resonant, but finally a sad lament about the relationship of a father and son via the TV. Memories of My Father Watching TV has as its protagonists television shows of the 1950s and '60s, around which the personalities of family members are shaped. The shows have a life of their own and become the arena of shared experience, veering off into whacky "memories" where what really happened is often confused with vaguely remembered television plot lines, and become a son's projections of what he wants for himself and his father through characters in shows like "Combat," "Highway Patrol," and "Bonanza." In the background, as children try to fit themselves into the family mythology of good and bad TV, their budding imaginations record every hurt, near hurt, or imagined hurt inflicted upon them by silent, depressed, nearly catatonic fathers. Comic in many ways, Memories of My Father Watching TV pricks at the pain lurking beneath the blue-light glow of one of our most universal experiences -- staring at the tube.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning March 26 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Whether he's talking about the Kitchen Debates or about the Third Man, Curtis White's prose is absolutely stunning. A challenging and difficult read, Memories of My Father Watching T.V. is both a devestating social critique and an honest and heartfelt personal journey. Grappling with complex themes which focus on identity formation and masculinity, White masterfully constructs his novel around the ways in which a father and son are constructed by 50's and 60's television shows. While some of his subtle allusions to Freudian psychoanalysis may be jarring and grotesque, his narrative is seamless and eloquent. Particularly interesting is reading Memories while also reading Montrous Possibility, essays in which he talks about himself as a writer, and more specifically as a postmodern writer. Edgy and daring; I loved the book and highly recommend it. Who couldn't love flowers spontaneously errupting from a underneath a general's helmet?!
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