In this “dazzling” (John Irving) memoir, acclaimed New Yorker staff writer Tad Friend reflects on the pressures of middle age, exploring his relationship with his dying father as he raises two children of his own.
“How often does a memoir build to a stomach-churning, I-can’t-breathe climax in its final pages? . . . Brilliant, intensely moving.”—William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Barbarian Days
Almost everyone yearns to know their parents more thoroughly before they die, to solve some of those lifelong mysteries. Maybe, just maybe, those answers will help you live your own life. But life doesn’t stop to wait. In his fifties, New Yorker writer Tad Friend is grappling with being a husband and a father as he tries to grasp who he is as a son. Torn between two families, he careens between two stages in life. On some days he feels vigorous, on the brink of greatness when he plays tournament squash. On others, he feels distinctly weary, troubled by his distance from millennial sensibilities or by his own face in the mirror, by a grimace that’s so like his father’s.
His father, an erudite historian and the former president of Swarthmore College, has long been gregarious and charming with strangers yet cerebral with his children. Tad writes that “trying to reach him always felt like ice fishing.” Yet now Tad’s father, known to his family as Day, seems concerned chiefly with the flavor of ice cream in his bowl and, when pushed, interested only in reconsidering his view of Franklin Roosevelt.
Then Tad finds his father’s journal, a trove of passionate confessions that reveals a man entirely different from the exasperatingly logical father Day was so determined to be. It turns out that Tad has been self-destructing in the same way Day has—a secret each has kept from everyone, even themselves. These discoveries make Tad reconsider his own role, as a father, as a husband, and as a son. But is it too late for both of them?
Witty, searching, and profound, In the Early Times is an enduring meditation on the shifting tides of memory and the unsteady pillars on which every family rests.