Book Excerpt : An American Family - Peter Lefcourt - 2012
“Yeah. She’s going to die from the heat in that thing.”
“If she don’t die first from getting her heart stepped on by that son of a bitch, cheats on her every time she turns her back.”
“When does he have the time? You’d think running the country was a fulltime job.”
"He’s got people that do that for him. Remember him and Marilyn?”
Vicky lowered her voice, as if she was about to impart were an atomic secret. “He screwed her in the presidential limo. With her on top. It was on account of his back. He wears some sort of brace.”
“You know,” Lillian said, “Marilyn and I have the exact same birth date. June 1, 1926.”
“Too bad she took those pills, huh?”
“Yeah,” Lillian said, recalling the numb feeling she’d had when she heard about the overdose the summer before last.
Guest Blog: How has your personal experience as a Jewish American influenced the book?
My experience growing up as a first-generation Polish American Jew in New York was the genesis of this book. I wanted to capture the emotional and psychological effects of the clash of the immigrant Jewish culture with the adopted American one. I was not interested so much in telling my story personally – this book is not an autobiographical novel – but the story of all immigrant cultures, Italian, Irish, African-American, Vietnamese, as well as Jewish. My father came to New York from a shtetl village in Poland in 1922 not knowing a word of English and became a lawyer; I grew up playing stickball on the streets of Queens and became a writer; my son grew up in Los Angeles, went to Yale and became a humanitarian worker who at the moment is in Kyrgyzstan.
This evolution, over merely three generations, fascinates me. Our life experiences have been so different, and yet there is an identity linking us together.
I wanted to set this story against the enormous social changes that took place in the second half of the twentieth century: the cultural rift created by the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, gay identity, the pervasive influence of music. And to show how my characters navigated these changes. I created the fictitious family, the Perls, and decided to tell the story through the shifting point of view of five siblings, all, like me, born in the 1940’s. I chose the two iconic dates of this period – November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001 – as a parenthesis to enclose the era.I was interested in the evolution of the family through all these changes – how it adapts to the most dramatic and sweeping changes and still survives as the emotional focus of our lives. I disagree with Tolstoy: all happy families are not alike.
AN AMERICAN FAMILY
A Novel by Peter Lefcourt
“You can count the wonderful novels about Hollywood on two hands. The Deal is one of them…” - Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Di & I displays Mr. Lefcourt’s bright conversational style and expert comic timing.” - New York Times Book Review
“Lefcourt is good about all the ways we are bad.” - Diane Sawyer
What did it mean to become American in the mid-20th century? Peter Lefcourt goes beyond assimilation to take a nostalgic and dramatic look at what makes us truly American in AN AMERICAN FAMILY: A Novel (Amazon e-book; $3.99; May 1, 2012). Lefcourt, known for his best-selling comic novels -- The Deal, The Dreyfus Affair, Di & I, Abbreviating Ernie, The Woody, Eleven Karens and The Manhattan Project -- takes a more serious approach here as he revives the settings, styles and sentiments of the 20th century.
Roots, The Godfather, Angela’s Ashes, The Joy Luck Club, My Antonia, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Middlesex are just a few of the great family sagas that have evoked our shared immigrant experience. AN AMERICAN FAMILY is told through the shifting points of view of the five Perl siblings born in the 1940’s, between the two iconic dates of the last fifty years: the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the catastrophe of 9/11. Within this time frame the Perl family is swept up in the sweeping cultural changes of those years: the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, rock and roll, drugs, women’s liberation, and the civil rights movement.
During this turbulent time, we meet the Perls -- Meyer, the immigrant tailor with a weakness for Yiddish theater actresses, whose nephew, Nathan, would become a fabric cutter on Seventh Avenue and the patriarch of the clan; Jackie, the young lawyer with a weakness for women, alcohol and Italian-American “clients”; Michael, the business genius intent on building his fortune; Elaine, the married school teacher who wants more from her life than being merely a wife and mother; Stephen, the brilliant and sensitive artist who struggles with his talent and his sexuality; and Roberta, the rebel hungry to experience perhaps a little too much of what life has to offer.
Lefcourt reaches back to his own family and memories to inform this saga. “Though this is not an autobiographical novel, it is, in a larger sense, a ‘cultural autobiography’ – specifically, that of Jewish-Americans born in the 1940’s. Our experiences are similar to that of all immigrants – Italian, Irish, Vietnamese, Iranian, etc. – as we all navigate the tide of our new culture.”
Peter Lefcourt is a refugee from the trenches of Hollywood, where he has distinguished himself as a writer and producer of film and television. Among his credits are “Cagney and Lacey,” for which he won an Emmy Award; “Monte Carlo,” in which he managed to keep Joan Collins in the same wardrobe for 35 pages; the relentlessly sentimental “Danielle Steel’s Fine Things,” and the underrated and hurried “The Women of Windsor,” the most sordid, and thankfully last, miniseries about the British Royal Family. He is a 30 handicap golfer, drinks too much good wine, and has never been awarded the Nobel Prize for anything.