Before I even started reading this memoir, I had to chuckle over the Author’s Note. Matt wrote:
“I’m not going to feed you that same old baloney about how memory is imperfect…The truth is that while everything in this book happened, it didn’t always happen the way I say it did. Sometimes I changed names or descriptions of people and places. Big deal. Sometimes I altered chronology…made people look foolish when they weren’t so foolish, made people look good when they were fools…–I know you’ll love this one–said things happened in one place when they really happened somewhere else. Okay, so maybe that is a big deal…Some of this stuff is damn funny and some of it’s tragic. Just don’t take the window dressing too literally.”
I suppose Oprah would have apoplexy over that statement. It had the opposite effect on me. I wanted to read more.
You don’t expect a book written by a Jewish fellow to start off with a chapter involving Santa Claus, but this one does. The first chapter is titled Why I Don’t Believe In Santa Claus and it has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. As a matter of fact, Matt didn’t even know he was Jewish until he was in the second grade.
Abandoned as an infant by his mother, Matt was raised by his grandparents, while their daughter, his mother, chose to hobnob across Europe. If this makes the book sound like a tearjerker, pack that notion away. Although some chapters are poignant, for the most part, the book is fresh, humorous and, at times, uproarious.
His grandfather, who was a genteel, aristocratic gentleman, had the good luck to marry a woman who was a real firecracker. She jokingly referred to the Rothschild family as a crazy cult. Speaking to her husband, she made remarks like:
“…your cult’s had so much shock therapy that if they held hands, they could provide enough electricity to power New York City.”
Getting to know Matt’s grandmother through his eyes is an unforgettable trip you won’t want to miss.
Peppered throughout the memoir are other fascinating characters–Elaine, who once convinced him that since they spent so much money in FAO Schwartz they should be entitled to some free gifts, The Petty Thieves. His short association with a reclusive old woman living in his building, who hadn’t been seen by any of her neighbors in thirty years, Greta Garbo Lives Next Door, leaves you wistful, wishing he had time to find out more about her. And there was his third-grade teacher, Ms. Wood, who delighted in giving him D’s on his papers, which he hid from his grandparents until they were eventually found, All in the D’s. His grandmother didn’t pull any punches that day,
“Oh, Matthew, what the hell are these?” .
Although this book is written by a person who lived just steps away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue, you never get the impression that it’s from the perspective of a rich kid. If anything, you feel Matt didn’t even realize he was rich until he reached puberty. (That’s another amusing story to read about).
What makes this memoir beautiful is that it is honest, in spite of what Matt tells you in the Author’s Note. His writing is witty, sincere, unerringly compassionate, hilarious and totally entertaining. Pick up this book; it’s a memorable read.
[Goodnight, Mr. Newman. We loved you.]