Tad Friend, “Cheerful Money”

Cheerful Money was always going to be a book I’d read the moment it hit the shelves, and I found it very enjoyable. It is in some ways easier to take than George Colt’s The Big House which traffics heavily in nostalgia. For Tad Friend, his WASP heritage resides more in people and habits than in one house — this is more truly a memoir, with incisive portraits of numerous ancestors and their emotional patterns. Friend is entertaining and perceptive. For instance, very early on he locates the tribe: “They lived in a floating Ruritania loosely bounded by L.L. Bean to the north, the shingle style to the east, Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed polar expedition to the south, and the limits  of Horace Greeley’s optimism to the west.” He takes on, along the way, the standard cultural markers like food and drink, clubs, nicknames (Tad, for instance), and money. “Old money, having received its money, treats it with custodial anxiety; new money, having earned it, believes it should be used.” Yep.

But this is not a rehash of The Official Preppy Handbook (which, I proudly note, he quotes in a couple of places), because Friend is after deeper illumination, and the narrative mirroring the story of his family is the tale of how he shed his carapace. Some of this is dull (the section excerpted in The Paris Review, for instance, seemed like a tame replay of Jay McInerney) and some of it made me squirm. Details about his analysis? Isn’t a little bit unseemly? I was also floored by the calm, earnest, post-therapeutic tone of his heart-felt adult conversations with both of his parents. So I guess that shrink has done a terrific job.

I’m left with a little puzzle now. Friend seems so familiar — a brother, maybe, or someone’s boarding-school boyfriend, the tall one with the mordant sense of humor. Many of the emotional patterns he describes in his parents and grandparents are familiar. I already knew that much of the cultural and physical baggage of my life is stereotypically WASP. Could that background really exert such a strong influence on relationships, too? I thought I was pretty highly evolved, but every now and then he wrote something that flew like an arrow through a chink in armor I thought I’d long ago left off. For instance, once he is well launched on a relationship, he can’t believe his good fortune. But “[p]erversely, still I sometimes felt the sadness of happiness, of no longer having to fight to prove I was worthwhile.”

Friend also addresses the fact that our caste is dying out. The clubbiness and insulation of our parents’ generation has thinned to nothing for our children. Pretty hard to avoid that nostalgia, after all.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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4 Responses to Tad Friend, “Cheerful Money”

  1. J.P.Lockey says:

    This is one book that I will have to put on my reading list.I grew up in Cold Spring Harbor,NY which was once the epicenter of Waspdom.In order to replenish their diminishing ranks, they snatch you up at a young age.It al starts with nursery school.I went a lavish preschool at St.John’s an Episcopalian church complete with Tiffany windows erected by The Jones Family who owned a huge tract of Long Island stretching from the North Shore all the way to the South Shore.My preschool teachers were graduates of the Seven Sisters colleges and had last names like DuPont.The next social grooming exercise was dancing school where the girls wore long white gloves to compliment the boys’Brooks Brothers blue blazers..This socialized us for dances at exclusive clubs such as The Creek and Piping Rock.The next stop on the treadmill were the clubs where we learned the fine arts of racing our Blue Jay sailboats and playing a good game of tennis.This gave our WASP elders even more time to teach us their ways.I’m not going to bite the hand that fed me port wine cheddar cheese on Ritz Crackers.My father taught me how to sail,and I was crazy about sailing in the way that young girls love horses.I raced in reggatas held at the fine,old clubs on Long Island Sound which included Seawanka in Oyster Bay,Larchmont,Royaton,Pequot etc.Being a guest at another club was a way to send their ducklings out into the wider WASP world to practice the manners and social skills that our WASP elders diligently taught us.We used this knowledge in ways that weren’t envisioned by our mentors from finding the garden of earthly delights,to trading bootleg Dead tapes.(Full discloser WASPS love The Grateful Dead)When I was in boarding school,I followed the Dead with some kids from Locust Valley,a hamlet that could use The Social Register as its phone book.There are things about WASP culture that I did appreciate in my town,the wealthier ones lived in small modest houses,they drove old beat up cars.When one kid outgrew his clothes they were passed around the neighborhood.They were smart,they created The Nature Conservency,which preserved the open land on the rundown estates they could no longer maintain or pay the tax bill

    I am looking forward to how Tad Friend views this world.”Cheerful Money sounds like a great read for those long,cold New England winters.

    • carolwallace says:

      You will love this book, then. It’s a skeptical view at that world we’re all so ambivalent about. One of my favorite things was the sketch of the WASP refrigerator: marmalade, vodka, a bunch of wilted scallions, mustard. What was it with that marmalade? (In the stoneware jars, that people used as drinking glasses for the beach…”

      BTW I grew up a block away from Pequot Yacht Club.

  2. Pingback: Wendy Burden, “Dead End Gene Pool” « Book Group of One

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