LET ME FINISH
by Roger Angell, © 2006
Published by Harcourt , Inc., 307 pp.
Having vented my annoyance with the 1.5 line spacing in the novel reviewed at the top of this page, I must back up a notch. Roger Angell’s book is also line-spaced at 1.5, but in this instance, one’s expectations are quite different. In the first place, the book is not touted as a novel. The jacket liner calls it “a fresh form of autobiography,” but it seems to me to be more of a riff on the oddities of memory (Mr. Angell was born in 1920). Let Me Finish is a collection of short sketches, linked only by the author’s participation in each one.
His choices for the short pieces seem quite capricious, delightfully so. It is a book one could pick up and put down and string out for several days, except that it’s so much fun that I read it all of a sitting.
Anyone who is a reader of The New Yorker will recognize Mr. Angell, not only for his own contributions to the magazine, but also as the son of Katherine White, one of The New Yorker’s founding editors, and stepson of E.B. White, the writer. At one point, Angell refers to the magazine as “the family company,” and his short sketches of some of its better-known personnel offer views refreshingly different from some of the latest books by disgruntled former employees of the magazine.
But it is Angell’s amazing recall and evocation of time and place that stick with the reader. The sights and sounds of New York City from the 20’s to the present are vivid. So are the descriptions of Maine and the White household, and the joys of sailing. Having a few oddballs in my own family history, I particularly enjoyed his evocation of several unusual — and very accomplished — uncles and aunts.
There is something for just about everyone in this book: tales of service in World War II; a paean to the dry martini; short descriptions that amount to love notes to both father and stepfather; a sensitive disquisition on the dual Christmases shared by children of divorced parents. The author is unflinchingly honest in his descriptions of the latter, but he doesn’t bid for our sympathy or play the blame game. What was, simply was.
Known as the consummate baseball writer, Angell does not disappoint in his wonderful reminiscences about baseball, starting with games attended in his childhood, when Babe Ruth was playing. Whether or not you follow baseball, you’ll enjoy the descriptions written by one who loves the game.
In the introduction to Let Me Finish, Roger Angell writes: “The title of this book ... isn’t about wrapping up a life or a time of life but should only evoke a garrulous gent at the end of the table holding up one hand while he tries to remember the great last line of his monologue.” One can hope that this book will be hardly the last line.