And suddenly, I was back. I unboxed my archives of maps and notes, all of it carefully annotated in a fourteen-year-old’s attempt at calligraphic hand. Drawings, stories, rules, maps; it was all there, waiting. And to my surprise, everyone loved it. Even my wife. The former track star was now an elven assassin. In fairness, she played mostly out of love for everyone at the table, but she played and had a great time. We all did.
Why had I stayed away so long? It was ideal family time—everyone looked directly at each other over the table, eyes bright, describing their next move in detail, moving their miniature warriors around the grid map on the table, engaging with the story, building powerful avatars of good. No phones, no screens, no video games, no earbuds—just family talking and laughing for hours at a time.
Older writers find younger ones irritating, Martin Amis writes in “The Rub of Time,” his fourth nonfiction miscellany, because their emergence is like a series of telegrams from the boneyard. “They are saying, ‘It’s not like that anymore. It’s like this.’”
Zadie Smith must be particularly galling to him. It’s not just that she was born in 1975, he in 1949. Her novels, beginning with “White Teeth” at the turn of the century, have deactivated many of the power instruments of Amis and his literary generation.
It is Genevieve Fox’s misfortune – not ours – that she is joining the ranks of those writing about cancer. As an accomplished journalist, she could write about anything and make it interesting. This exceptionally involving memoir doubles as a narrative about growing up as an orphan. And the strands dovetail – she lost her mother to cancer when she was nine years old (her father died of a heart attack when she was younger still). Her book considers orphans in literature (Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Caliban) and she reflects upon this theme partly because, as a mother, she is steeling herself against history repeating itself. In her narrative, a ramshackle past and fraught present collide. Her account of her outlandish upbringing (to the limited extent that she was brought up at all) astonishes with its mix of privilege and neglect.
McGregor is a beautiful, controlled writer, who can convey the pathos of a life in a few lines. Despite the large cast of characters, each feels specific and real.