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Garis, Leslie 1943-

Garis, Leslie 1943-

PERSONAL:

Born March 1, 1943; daughter of Roger (a writer) and Mabel Garis.

CAREER:

Journalist.

WRITINGS:

House of Happy Endings, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of articles and profiles to magazines and newspapers, including New York Times Magazine.

SIDELIGHTS:

In her memoir House of Happy Endings, Leslie Garis describes a life at odds with that depicted in the well-known children's books written by her paternal grandparents. From the early 1900s through the 1950s, Howard Garis and his wife, Lilian, wrote several volumes of Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and Uncle Wiggly stories. These books, which were immensely popular, conveyed an idealized version of small-town American life. Yet, as Leslie Garis reveals, life with Howard and Lilian was far from perfect.

When Garis was eight years old, her father, Roger, moved the family to a big old house in Amherst, Massachusetts, called the Dell. A few years later Roger's parents joined them there. At first life seemed fascinating and adventurous to young Leslie, whom New York Times reviewer William Grimes described as a "precocious Nancy Drew in the making." But the girl eventually grew to realize that beneath the surface cheer, her family, in Grimes's words, "seethed with rivalries, resentments and jealousies." The gentle father she adored was a failure as a writer and remained financially dependent on his parents his entire life. He could not stand up to his domineering mother, who belittled him and, as Grimes observed, "treated him with a mixture of smothering protectiveness and sneering condescension." Roger suffered from depression and became addicted to barbiturates; he was eventually hospitalized in a succession of mental institutions. After Lilian's death Howard succumbed to alcoholism. Though Leslie's mother, Mabel, did what she could to keep the family together, she could not overcome the negative pull of the family's unhealthy dynamic.

"The unraveling of the Garis family makes harrowing reading," observed Grimes, who praised the sensitivity with which Garis depicts her family members, especially her father. Booklist contributor Vanessa Bush expressed a similar view, commending the "tenderness and sharp insight" that Garis brings to her material. A writer for Publishers Weekly emphasized the remarkable balance in Garis's account and admired her talent for "conveying the family's vibrancy and vigor" as well as its dysfunctionality. Observing that memoirs of strikingly disturbed families have become increasingly common, Joyce Johnson wrote in the New York Times Book Review that House of Happy Endings is distinguished from the bulk of such titles by its bracing honesty and refusal to "settle old scores." Garis, in Johnson's estimation, has "bravely piece[d] together a coherent narrative that makes sense to her and accounts for a great deal of suffering."

Before publication of her memoir, Garis was best known for her profiles of writers such as Georges Simenon, Marguerite Duras, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, John Fowles, and Harold Pinter for the New York Times Magazine. She has written about literary subjects for several national magazines and newspapers.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, July 1, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of House of Happy Endings, p. 23.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2007, review of House of Happy Endings.

Library Journal, June 15, 2007, Gina Kaiser, review of House of Happy Endings, p. 70.

New York Times, July 19, 2007, William Grimes, review of House of Happy Endings.

New York Times Book Review, August 19, 2007, Joyce Johnson, "Uncle Wiggily in Amherst," p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, May 14, 2007, review of House of Happy Endings, p. 46.

ONLINE

Smith Magazine,http://smithmag.net/ (November 5, 2007), Kim Brittingham, interview with Leslie Garis.

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