"Anything Your Little Heart Desires, " by Patricia Bosworth.Simon & Schuster, 416 pages. $27.50.
Is it possible to capture a reader with the tale of two unappealing, selfish and self-destructive characters?
Patricia Bosworth begs that question with this unflinchingly honest family memoir. The book's depiction of her father, Bartley Crum, the high-spirited activist lawyer who became a defender of the Hollywood Ten, and her mother, whose nickname "Cutsie" accurately assesses her intellectual and emotional depth, is alternately adoring and brutal. In the end - if one sticks with the story - one learns the price a family pays when a member is driven by insatiable passions.
Bartley Crum's remarkable life - which he ended by suicide in 1959, at the age of 59 - unfolded in San Francisco, Washington and New York in the 1930s and '40s, and it was full of politics and power and the demons of the day. He was Wendell Willkie's close adviser, Rita Hayworth's divorce lawyer, a Truman-appointed diplomat involved in the creation of Israel. Throughout it all, he was an invisible father to Bosworth and her brother.
"We were starting to get used to being without him," she writes. "He was beginning to exist as a fantasy figure. ..."
In her detailed account, Bosworth tries to reconcile her image of "Daddy as superman" with the man who failed at fatherhood and marriage. It's a tough, if not impossible, task.
His public life as a crusader meant his children were left in the hands of a mother who was lonely and self-absorbed. "It seemed that while Daddy was away Mama focused her energies on Bonbon and not on us. I can still see that poodle (oh, how I resented her!) in the front seat of our station wagon, craning her neck imperiously."
Bosworth concludes it was her father who was to blame. "He abandoned her very early on, as he abandoned the entire family, and we compensated for it each in our own ways. I put up my cheerful wall, Mama threw tantrums and had affairs. My brother killed himself."
With her mother's journals, her father's personal papers and 2,000 pages of his FBI dossier, obtained after his death, Bosworth makes a determined effort to understand what happened to this American family. "I was addicted to my father," she says of that process, "and now I was addicted to preserving his memory." But the facts she uncovered did not jibe with the image.
In a stunning ending, Bosworth reveals that her father was a turncoat - he became an FBI informant, providing information about the Lawyers Guild and two colleagues - in hopes that J. Edgar Hoover would finally stop his wiretaps and surveillance of the family. Bosworth writes that "for a long time I was ashamed of my father. I thought what he'd done was a betrayal of his ideals and everything he stood for. It wasn't until recently that I realized I'd felt betrayed. I felt he'd betrayed me and my impossible fantasies of him."
The book is a raw portrayal of people who were, simply, flawed human beings. The author's honesty redeems her characters - and helps propel the reader through this very public and private story. It does not excuse them as parents.
Jan Winburn is enterprise editor at The Sun; she worked at the Hartford Courant and the Philadelphia Inquirer before coming to Baltimore.
Pub Date: 4/20/97