Growing up on the Upper West Side of New York City in the 1970s, in an apartment filled with dazzling literary and artistic characters, Priscilla Gilman worshiped her brilliant, adoring, and mercurial father, the writer, theater critic, and Yale School of Drama professor Richard Gilman. But when Priscilla was ten years old, her mother, renowned literary agent Lynn Nesbit, abruptly announced that she was ending the marriage. The resulting cascade of disturbing revelations—about her parents' hollow marriage, her father's double life and tortured sexual identity—fundamentally changed Priscilla's perception of her father, as she attempted to protect him from the depression that had long shadowed him.
In the end, The Critic’s Daughter is about the complex love between a parent and a child. It’s not just a book for literary gossips ... Most childhood memoirs depict the author as an adult in child’s clothing ... This one is sometimes childlike, still earnest and effusive. The memoir genre also pumps out innumerable rote tales of becoming, of breaking free, of learning to 'direct' one’s own life. It offers few stories of being and remaining entangled ... The Critic’s Daughter is an account of a love that’s neither takeoff strip nor landing pad, a child’s confounding adoration for her parent that’s neither really resolved nor extinguished.
Throughout the book, Gilman delightfully weaves the television shows, plays, and movies of her childhood into the story....Gilman also addresses the contradictions and shortcomings of dramatic criticism, suggesting that people should be free to love what they love, in all senses, not just the theatrical ... While the questions raised about the nature and value of criticism are worthwhile, the heart of this memoir is the unusually powerful, fraught, and enduring father-daughter relationship. Gilman creates an emotional map of the catastrophic disruption of divorce and the devotion of a child for her parent despite his failings.
This revealing and clearly heartfelt memoir — a love letter to her father that doesn’t obscure the difficult and frustrating aspects of their relationship—works precisely because Gilman delivers a detailed portrait of her father, proverbial warts and all ... She certainly provides the rest of us with a daughter’s thoughtful and empathetic profile of her dad.