Review of SCREAM - A memoir of glamour and dysfunction by Tama Janowitz
There's something to be said for a psychiatrist who's been addicted to pot for 50 years and who's not able to function unless stoned, according to his daughter. If that isn't enough, he abuses his power by sleeping with his patients. Imagine you need to work through an issue and this is the licensed professional who will help you. No thanks!
Also, why do writers assume most people know the layout of New York? Tama refers to areas known mostly to New Yorkers, an assumption which distracts from her memoir.
I almost gave the book away because life is too short and time is precious, but the publisher sent an advance review copy because the author's mother has dementia. I continued reading this abstractly organized book.
Pulled in a tug of war, I felt compassion for the author and shock each time she got herself into another mess. Who can't feel compassion for a child coming of age and trying to gain her father's acceptance? He comes across as highly manipulative, begging her to visit just so he can reject her. If that isn't enough, he follows this rejection with a "hate letter." The guy needs psychiatric help.
She's had plenty of opportunities to emerge from this dysfunctional upbringing, starting with her trip to Israel at age 12 and as an adult to other countries for her work. She's received a finer education than most; yet, she continually acts before thinking. Buying a run-down house in a remote area that needs to be completely gutted and rebuilt doesn't make sense when you can barely afford to live.
She escapes frequently yet returns to New York to "keep up appearances." She realizes the richer her "friends" are the cheaper they are, from Andy Warhol to the editor she wants to know. While Tama counts her pennies and can only afford an appetizer and a glass of wine, the editor orders three wines, an appetizer, a full meal, and dessert. At the end, the editor wants to split the bill!
Tama name-drops freely. Her descriptions of these people are mostly disrespectful. Did she get permission to mention these people in her book? When she escapes NY Society to be among the down-to-earth working-class, even they don't pass her muster. Those who know her describe this as her unique brand of humor. I don't know her and find this off-putting. She describes with distaste the gruff carpenter she hires to fix her rundown home and then she sleeps with him. What's with that? She's still married!
Tucked about two-thirds the way through this 300-page book are three pages with a quick rundown of how she's enjoyed the good life and made connections with famous people. Most of the book is woe is me. Part of these connections were a result of her own efforts--a book turned into a movie, appearances in advertisements, and features in magazines. I had the impression, even though she only hints at it, that her husband Tim Hunt's longtime work as an agent for Andy Warhol's work, kept the doors open so she could associate with NY's social class.
Meanwhile, she returns to her mother periodically for encouragement and support. I would have liked to read more about her mother and their relationship before and during her mother's life with dementia. I chose not to review this for our website's Review column, because there wasn't enough development to help caregivers.
While I got to know Tama from what she shared in this memoir, I hope she finds peace and more reasons to be grateful for the people in her life... her husband, for example.