I’ve been wanting to read this book since it came out. I’ve kept my eye on it and put it on my amazon wish list in hopes my husband would get it for me for Christmas of my birthday. I am VERY easy to shop for. Books, chocolate, and running shoes, in that order. Easy.
Then I found it reasonably priced at a used bookstore while on vacation and I couldn’t say no. So my review is going to be tainted. When I want to read a book so badly, I fear that I build it up in my mind and if it isn’t amazing, I can be overly harsh. Be forewarned, my review might be coming from that place.
This book purports to not only focus on Henry or William, the more famous James’, but to show what it must have been like to be part of that family. Before having children, I was unaware of how truly a family transcends this collective of individuals and becomes it’s own living organism. I have no idea why having children brought this reality home to me as I grew up in a fairly close family. At any rate, Fisher starts with the James parents Henry Sr. and Mary Walsh. He discusses how they got together and how their own children came into the world. Fisher details their various moves across the ocean and their junkets around Europe. As the family grows Fisher focuses his efforts on William, Henry Jr., and Alice. Bob and Wilkie, the other James brothers pass through the book as they pass through other biographies. Very much in the periphery. Fisher does a fair job of using first person sources to make his points about love, petty jealousies, and the often complex relationship between siblings.
In the end, though well written, I didn’t feel this book was a huge addition to the cannon of biographies already devoted to various James’ family members. Most other biographies spend time on the familial relations and in the end it was another focus on William and Henry. Fisher also spends much of his time obsessed with Henry James’ sexuality. By applying modern attitudes and innuendo he comes to his own conclusions that don’t add to the discussion. Alice gets the same treatment. In the end the book itself was neither revelatory nor unique from the other biographies that I have read. Henry James fans in particular might enjoy this book, but as a biography in general it was meh.