In February, the wonderful Janet Malcolm reviewed Allen Shawn's memoir, Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life:
When Allen Shawn writes of what he calls his father's "additional partner", he is letting out no family secret. The secret was let out by the partner herself, Lillian Ross, in 1998, when she published a memoir, Here but Not Here. The book came as a shock to many people who had known Wiliam Shawn. Shawn guarded his privacy as if it were his most precious possession, and Ross's heedless chronicle of their forty-year-long affair (with photographs to buttress her words in case anyone doubted them) seemed an especially brutal violation of trust. Today, fourteen years after Shawn's death, the book reads differently.Note the similarity in Allen Shawn's title and his father's mistress's. Malcolm highlights this excerpt:
Writing of the double life, Allen pauses to quietly remark, "It was only double viewed from the outside, of course. To him it was just his life." This capacity for entering into the subjectivity of another (the word "empathy" doesn't convey the difficulty and generosity) separates Wish I Could Be There from the usual accusatory memoir of troubled childhood. Allen Shawn writes of his father not as the callous agent of his sufferings but as a fellow sufferer, to be no less tenderly treated by the attending narrator-physician than he treats himself. He writes of his father's adultery not as a transgression but as an attempt to cure a loneliness so extreme that no one woman could fill it.
Before I left for music camp at thirteen, my father told me that I might encounter an activity called masturbation while I was there, but he looked as if he might be about to commit suicide after our conversation... I know now that he must have been afraid of handling it the wrong way and scarring me for life. He was incapable of saying, "I have done this myself"; it had to be "we" or "it" or "one" ("It's perfectly normal...") In an effort to be tactful, he managed to imply that the concept of masturbation was sure to be new to me. This reinforced my shame about pleasures already taken.(That's all I could transcribe, as the article isn't free. As with most media outlets, the NYRB charges far more for a single article than makes any business sense. Who would be foolish enough to be a frequent purchaser of individual articles, if they are $3 a pop? No drug dealer would set the barrier to entry so relatively high.)