Picks and Pans Review: Messages from My Father

UPDATED 07/15/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/15/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Calvin Trillin

Sick of tell-all memoirs about dysfunctional families and deadbeat dads? Try humorist Trillin's Hallmark card to his pop, Abe, a hardworking Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who founded a chain of five neighborhood grocery stores in Kansas City, Mo., after the Depression. The closest thing to parental abuse this slim book exposes is the elder Trillin's insistence that his son join the Boy Scouts, against the child's will, because that's what true American boys do.

The guiding principle of young Trillin's upbringing was: "We have worked hard so that you can have the opportunity to be a real American." As a boy, Abe Trillin had read the heroic novel Stover at Yale, and as a grownup, he used it to guide his son's higher education. Calvin not only graduated from that citadel of WASP respectability but edited the Yale Daily News and belonged to one of Old Blue's prestigious senior societies. Abe, who worked hard all his life so that his son would never have to, died in 1967 at 60.

Trillin evinces the love he felt for the man who sacrificed to give him so many opportunities. Even so, Messages feels somewhat two-dimensional—its humor often corny or predictable. Outside of a Norman Rockwell painting, family life has never been this strife-free. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18)

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