The Dysfunctional Jameses

From The New York Times:

James_2 “House of Wits” seems an odd title, suggesting elegant repartee and playful badinage — more Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward — for what is billed as an “intimate portrait” of the James family. Certainly they could be witty (Alice, the only daughter, was especially sharp); they competed as children at the family dinner table to tell the best stories, jumping from their chairs and gesticulating passionately; and two of them, the two geniuses of the family, grew up to live on their wits. But “wits” is not how I think of them, either before or after reading this book. “House of horrors” would be nearer the mark, in this version. Paul Fisher refers to the James home as a “chamber of horrors,” a “plague ship” and “the James family bog.” His big project is to tell the James family story as a traumatic saga of dysfunction, competition, anxiety, aspirations often thwarted, confusion, repression, breakdown and sadness, of lifelong struggles to get away and an inexorable pull back to the powerful family bond. The lives of all the children are shaped by the father’s peculiarities: “The young Jameses grew up borne on the shifting currents of Henry’s emotions and desires, and buffeted by them.” Resenting or hating the home, driven away from it by wanderlust, ambition and desire for independence, yet always locked into it and haunted by what Alice James called “ghost microbes,” the Jameses were doomed, in Fisher’s words, to be “always running away from Jameses only to collide with Jameses again.”

More here.