Family Symposium

In Three Penny Review, Stephen Greenblatt reflects on a familial comedy of errors.

About six months ago, out of the blue, I received an email from a stranger:

I am a resident of Montclair in Oakland, California, and recently found a box of family pictures in the parking lot of a local Home Depot store. The box (Columbia sportswear) has the names ‘Corbin and Greenblatt’ on its top. Inside are many old photographs of an H. and Ida (?) Greenblatt, as well as a graduation booklet of Carol Corbin from UT, Dallas. Please let me know if this box belongs to you, and if so, we can arrange shipping.

I thought that the phrase “we can arrange shipping” had a suspicious ring, vaguely akin to those pestiferous emails that begin, “I am the widow of the former strongman of Nigeria who left me $27,000,000 in cash and securities.” No doubt I would soon be told that all I had to do to get the family pictures was to provide my bank account and PIN number. But wait: this suspicion was clearly absurd. Though I had no idea who Carol Corbin was, the rest of it made sense: Harry was my father’s name, and Ida my grandmother’s. It was remotely possible, I briefly considered, that some immensely clever con-man could have picked up the mention of my father in the preface to Will in the World, but it would have taken serious archival labor to dredge up Ida, whom I scarcely knew. In any case, it was almost clinical narcissism to imagine a thief poring over one of my books. Besides, before moving to Massachusetts, I lived for many years in the Bay Area, and it was entirely possible that, in the uprooting of my life, I had left behind a box of old pictures. But that uprooting occurred a decade ago; why should this particular piece of domestic flotsam and jetsam only bob up now?