1185 Park Avenue

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Speaking of her mother, Anne Roiphe at one point in this brilliant, moving memoir asks, “How many neuroses can one person have before they grow totally crazy?” The question might well have been asked of her father and her brother as well.

Roiphe’s mother, Blanche Phillips Roth, had shirt money—the Phillips Van Heusen Shirt company to be precise—but the man she married in 1931, Eugene Frederick Roth, barely had a shirt. He did, however, have “something of the Riviera jewel thief” about him, and a Columbia law degree that earned him the shirt company’s business.

Blanche Roth was passive and ineffectual, chainsmoking her way through a succession of canasta games and analyst’s appointments, whereas Eugene was a philanderer who brutalized both Blanche and their two children, Anne and her younger brother, Johnny. Anne spent hours sitting with her mother, all the time yearning for her father’s affection. Anne was a natural roughneck tomboy, but asthmatic Johnny received only contempt from his father for his bookish interests. Anne went to Smith and Sarah Lawrence, made a terrible first marriage, and became a successful writer. Johnny became a doctor who researched infectious diseases.

Anne Roiphe’s account of life in 1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir is a painful account of a terrible family romance, told with wit, sympathy, and detachment. Brief appearances of famous personalities enliven the narrative, and one of them, Roy Cohn, appears as despicable as he later proved himself to be. This is a splendid book.