Book Review: Good Stuff

Good Stuff:  A Reminiscence Of My Father, Cary Grant, by Jennifer Grant

Among the more poignant parts of this poignant book of a daughter’s love for her famous father and of her account of his love for her is the blurb that comes below a picture of the author and her father look out into a blurry landscape that looks like a horsetrack, from Bill Cosby:  “As a father of five, I hope my daughters will remember me as beautifully as Jennifer has remembered her father.”  That is possible, but at this point it seems unlikely.  The author manages a difficult but impressive task, and that is being honest and candid enough about her father as a man to satisfy those who would want to know him a bit better as a person and to be dignified and private enough to uphold his reputation, about which he was particularly sensitive [1].  The result is a book that should manage to be popular on account of its subject matter but also contains nothing about which the author or its subject would likely feel ashamed about, even if it does enter into somewhat delicate territory.

This book is written in a rather artful fashion, starting with the author’s knee-jerk negativity towards the project at first before she started writing about her father for her own benefit and took a look at the massive archives her father had left her.  The book then moves to a look at the childhood experiences that the author remembers and has a record of, including discussions of photos, notes, and home videos that demonstrate Cary Grant to be a person of surprising privacy as well as loneliness.  After having had his only child at 62, he retired from showbiz and never looked back, even though his marriage with the author’s mother ended in divorce when the author was only one year old.  Later chapters examine the thorny question of the author’s sexuality, his somewhat distant relationship with his parents, his love of baseball and horses, and his eventually happy marriage with his much younger fifth wife, Barbara and his reflections on life and death and his intensely conscientious and anxious nature, which the author chronicles with a sense of compassion.  This book reminds us of what it is like to live in the bubble of fame and deal with the tradeoffs of favors and freebies as well as intense expectations and always being looked at, and to have famous and powerful friends whose personal virtues one can appreciate from being on the inside.

This book is remarkable and notable for its restraint as well as for its candor.  The author notes with some jealousy her seeing her father act like a bachelor in films made before her birth, and has some guarded praise for those who try to jack her father’s style, like George Clooney.  The author stick with what she knows, and that is her father as a young-minded old man who was careful but not stingy with his money, desirous of privacy but also someone who liked to live a normal life and not one of a recluse, and someone whose longings for a good marriage lasted through four broken marriages until his last one, which lasted for the last nine years or so of his life.  The author allows us to see the author’s silent treatment, his insomnia, and high anxiety in which he lived his life, something that gives us a sense of respect as well as pity for a man whose stardom seemed so effortless and elegant but who was a man whose struggle to rise from poverty and an unhappy childhood clearly took a toll on him and who resolved to give his only child a childhood she would have no cause to lament or regret, and at which he seems to have succeeded marvelously.

[1] Nor is he alone in that, it must be admitted.  See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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