One of my parents (there is dispute over which) sent me this book almost a year ago, I laughed at the portrait on the front and the fact that either my WASPy father or my Catholic mother was looking around the house one day and thought “Oh Kath would probably enjoy this book about the houses, schools, and insecurities of East Coast WASPs, I should send it to her.” And they were right.
This book could have been simple, either a sneering or nostalgic look at a subculture defined by their privilege and tendency to be out of touch with reality, but in Tad Friend’s hands it’s a wry look at the dysfunction of his own family and the world that created them.
As a fellow prep-school graduate who spent summers at “the lake” and can trace her family back to the Puritans that founded New England, without ever having the luxury of actual inherited wealth, there are parts of this book that felt like looking in a mirror. The personal narrative is a pretty run of the mill memoir of a guy that had commitment issues until he met his, seemingly lovely wife Amanda Hesser, but the extra layer of almost anthropological insights into the insular community, which seems to be tied to academia now.
I of course can’t know what it would be like to read this as a non-WASP, but I do think it might be a fun peek into a world that is disappearing. (As it should, as lovely as it seems to have been it was built on exclusivity and casual anti-Semitism/racism/classism.) Friend has a lot of theories as to what happened to the “Old Boy Network” that he describes, but my favorite his is observation that because WASPs saw themselves as the original Americans they forgot to do the one thing that every immigrant group had to “assimilate.”