In The Wine Lover’s Daughter, Anne Fadiman examines—with all her characteristic wit and feeling—her relationship with her father, Clifton Fadiman, a renowned literary critic, editor, and radio host whose greatest love was wine.
An appreciation of wine—along with a plummy upper-crust accent, expensive suits, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Western literature—was an essential element of Clifton Fadiman’s escape from lower-middle-class Brooklyn to swanky Manhattan. But wine was not just a class-vaulting accessory; it was an object of ardent desire. The Wine Lover’s Daughter traces the arc of a man’s infatuation from the glass of cheap Graves he drank in Paris in 1927; through the Château Lafite-Rothschild 1904 he drank to celebrate his eightieth birthday, when he and the bottle were exactly the same age; to the wines that sustained him in his last years, when he was blind but still buoyed, as always, by hedonism.
Wine is the spine of this touching memoir; the life and character of Fadiman’s father, along with her relationship with him and her own less ardent relationship with wine, are the flesh. The Wine Lover’s Daughter is a poignant exploration of love, ambition, class, family, and the pleasures of the palate by one of our finest essayists.
If Anne Fadiman’s book about her father were a wine, it would merit a “100” rating, along with all the oeno-superlatives: “smooth,” “elegant,” “brilliant,” “rounded,” “with a dazzling, heart-warming finish.” But as it is a book and not a wine, let’s call it what it is: a stunning, original, beautifully written, clear-eyed yet tear-inducing account of a daughter’s love for her famous father; and into the bargain, the best family memoir yet to come out of the Baby Boom generation.
The ostensible object of Anne Fadiman’s wonderful new book is the wine cellar of her father, the once-omnipresent critic Clifton Fadiman. But its real subjects include the insecurities of American Jews, the glories of mid-century “middlebrow” culture, and, above all, the always intricate, often exasperated, and finally deeply tender relation of father and daughter.
This book is as good and rich as one would hope—no small thing, given it’s written by one of the best essayists of our time about her father, one of the more interesting critics of another. Uncork this book and watch one master go to work on another, a man she observed all her life with an affectionate but also a writer’s eye. I was reminded reading it of what the man himself once wrote about tasting a great vintage, that it was “to savor a droplet of the river of human history.”
—John Jeremiah Sullivan
Source: Farrar, Straus & Giroux