Family Feeling is the second novel of Helen Yglesias, former literary editor of The Nation and writing instructor in the Fine Arts Program of Columbia University. In a decade which has been preoccupied with changes in family life styles, the novel creates a familiar, even traditional, scene. Although it includes some incidents of marital infidelity, secret abortions, and broken marriages, Family Feeling is, on the whole, a romance of an upward striving immigrant family that succeeds in the New World and that retains its sense of family despite the vicissitudes of social custom. Unlike other popular novels published in the 1970’s, such as Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Lisa Alther’s Kinflicks, or Rosellen Brown’s Autobiography of My Mother, Yglesias portrays a relatively stable, nonmasochistic heroine who ultimately combines family and career into a rewarding enterprise. The American melting pot in the form of the Goddard family produces a well-flavored blend of palatable, familiar folk who argue and love and strive but are not destroyed as the family context changes.
The Goddard family, whose real name has been lost by some official at Ellis Island, lacks factual ancestors but connects with an older Hebraic family who also was exiled and whose physical and psychological intactness was salvaged by the youngest child. Anne, youngest offspring of Momma and Papa Goddard, is reminiscent of Joseph, the favored child of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, who was sold by his brothers but rose to fame and influence in the foreign land of Egypt. Like Joseph, Anne understands the dreams of the New Land and possesses a realistic sensibility which leads to a special kind of influence, a creative power which assures her family’s survival in a new country.
Yglesias complicates the motif of the youngest as redeemer and establishes a thoroughly contemporary position by having the family’s fortunes depend on the youngest of each sex. The social and political struggles between men and women in America are reflected in the different avenues to power and success which the two protagonists Hannah (Anne) Goddard and Baruch (Barry) Goddard employ. Barry is the third child and youngest son; Anne is the seventh child and youngest daughter. Barry is pragmatic, determined, materialistic; Anne is literate, experimental, artistic. Both represent important, complementary aspects of their family’s character. Barry becomes a multimillionaire industrialist; Anne blossoms into a literary editor of a prominent New York magazine. Through their combined energies, they establish the Goddard name on the economic, educational, and social landscape of America. The rest of the family, however, remains dependent on Barry’s financial munificence and Anne’s solid good sense. The parents are depleted physically and financially as they try to provide shelter and food for their large family. But Barry and Anne enter this new land with gusto. They assimilate the Old World tradition with the American Dream and create a new coat of many colors. The notion of family is expanded from a nuclear unit to a larger, disbanded collection of people linked by the memories of their parents and the realistic accomplishments of their family members. The Goddard family survives, but the direction is toward assimilation. The youngest have earned power and prestige, but the Goddard name seems, at the end of the novel, to become more symbol than reality. Barry and Anne, the new patriarch and matriarch, survey their city and realize that the future of their family resides in the past, and that redemption for the new generation will need to be drawn from within. In a sense, the novel has come full circle.
The motif of a complementary pair is also carried through the novel by the narrator, Anne Goddard. Anne is both the “I” and the “she” as Yglesias uses a complicated first-person point of view to create a sense of intimacy and distance within the novel. Anne writes the novel in her mature...
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