Hoffman, Richard. “Love and Fury: A Memoir”, Beacon Press, 2014.
Richard Hoffman tells quite a story about his family but he also tells us about the social and ethical scene in the United States when he was growing up. Beneath it all is a look at what it means to be a good man in America, a question most of us ask from time to time. This seems to be changing constantly and I am sure that as long as there are men on earth it will continue to do so. There is really nothing extraordinary about Hoffman’s life and family and with that as his base, Hoffman shares his life. We read of what he has experienced as a son, a father and a grandfather and the pivotal instances that have shaped his life. There was his father who had been diagnosed with a terminal bone-marrow disorder, his son’s unexpected return home after being unsuccessful at university, and his unwed daughter’s decision to carry a child to term. These and other challenges caused changes to his life as a writer and husband. Hoffman takes us into his family where we meet his son, daughter and the father of his daughter’s child, Damion. Hoffman is forced to reconcile his relationship with Damion, a man of Jamaican descent, with the racism he inherited from his father. We read as Hoffman manipulates time by giving us “his memories of family loyalties, honest dialogue, and difficult loss”.
Hoffman shares that there were times that he felt he had two fathers— his real father who raised him and an imaginary father who he talked to on the phone and in his head. Even though he and his real father were close, his father was an enigma, a man composed of both tenderness and rage. When his father was diagnosed with cancer that would prove fatal, Hoffman faces the struggle they shared getting to know each other. He came to understand that each was a mystery to the other. Hoffman connects past and present telling about his grandfather, a miner in Pennsylvania at just ten-years-old and young grandson, whose father is one of the estimated one million young black men incarcerated today. In order to deal with this, he is forced to look at the way the values of American after the Second World War regard class, war, women, race, masculinity, violence, divinity, and wealth. Through self-scrutiny, fairness, intellectual rigor, and emotional bravery., Hoffman faces himself and layer-by-layer he searches for who he is and what his obligations are. We see how we are tied to the past by racism, patriarchy and class-stratification. We become acutely aware of the connection between fathers and sons and it is exhausting, frustrating but necessary. I have yet to be able to do so. I last saw my father in 1967 and he died in 1989 when we had not spoken in all that time.
Richard Hoffman focuses on his particular class: “white, Catholic, American academic from an East Coast mill-town working class family who was sexually abused as a child by an athletic coach, whose long-suffering mother smoked too many cigarettes, whose father, after retirement, ended up sitting in soft chair watching TV all day”.
Hoffman moves between past and present, exploring his questions about why he is unable to understand his father even though he loves him. He had to deal with his mother’s death and the deaths of two of Hoffman’s three brothers due to muscular dystrophy. At the same time he faces those losses he also faces serious problems within his own family— his wife is diagnosed with a serious illness, his son fights an addiction, and his daughter has a child with a black man who ends up being sent to prison. To understand his own family, he probes the changing lots of working class America, the racism with which he was raised, and the current prejudices faced by blacks in this country even if they are immigrants from the Caribbean and therefore not really part of the long history of the African American experience of bigotry. He provides no answers because there are none so he just describes what he has been through.