Family Matters

dreams I couldn't share/and how a dysfunctional family became America's darling The Addams Family

Non-Fiction - Memoir
436 Pages
Reviewed on 08/30/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite

Lance Lee has penned a biography, Family Matters, that allows readers into the imperfect and often heartbreaking behind-closed-doors story of his youth. Lee's father is the television creator of The Addams Family, a famous show of the 1960s that retains a cult following today. Lee's mother is the model Lucille Wilds. Lee recounts a wide-ranging number of stories that are relayed in mostly chronological order, dipping back for some memories and 19th-century family history and pushing forward with what he's heard and what he's seen. The American Dream is on full display and so too is the nuanced, unspoken truth of what we all know but are unwilling to admit: it's a myth. Manicured lawns and Manhattan apartments are just camouflage for debt, infidelity, family infighting, signs of sexual abuse, and seeing your mother and sister have to get on their knees and bark for a little spending money.

When a lot of Gentiles imagine antisemitism, it tends to be a violent and overt hatred that boils over into public visibility. Lance Lee immediately puts this thought to rest by speaking of micro-aggressions. Relinquishing a name and, to the horror of one's parents, marrying a Christian. Out of all of what happened and given the control of his paternal grandmother, this is shockingly less appalling than all that came after. Family Matters has a reader enthralled in the same way one watches a train wreck. You cannot turn yourself away, no matter how bad it gets. There's contempt mixed with a gross allure and signs of the impact that reverberate in Lee's later experiences. I saw parallels between Lee finding a tyrannical trigonometry teacher being the key to him succeeding in the subject as if he is so accustomed to fire branding that anything else is boring. From a literary standpoint, Family Matters is pitch-perfect and a fine read that is hard to digest and impossible to forget.

Cecelia Hopkins

Family Matters by Lance Lee commences as Lance's mother makes a clever escape from the family home to apply for a community of property divorce. The narrative backtracks through family mythology, finding nothing quite as it seemed. For instance, his parents, screenwriter David “Gar” Levy and model Lucille Wilds, had married twice. One ceremony was in secret, and another was staged because Lance was on the way. The younger of twins, “Gar” Levy was unfaithful to his wife, distant to his children, and overly controlling of the finances. Levy worked as an independent playwright before being employed by the advertising agency Y&R which developed radio and television. After leaving Y&R, he wrote novels and created The Addams Family show based on cartoons of Charles Addams. Lance sees his father’s psychological issues reflected subtly in the dark comedy. The final section contains a selection of poetry.

Family Matters by Lance Lee offers a valuable insight into the human side of television history. I liked the way Lee recounted what he had learned about his parents’ lives with honesty and showed sympathy for his mother. I appreciated the attention to detail, which included in-depth family trees, quotes from relatives, and excerpts from his father’s diary. The poems included were of high literary quality and very evocative. The story demonstrated the way prejudice could flow in both directions, and how individuals with mixed heritage get caught between White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant and other values. Students of the media and fans of vintage sitcoms will find Family Matters by Lance Lee incredibly useful as a resource.

Asher Syed

Family Matters by Lance Lee is a family memoir that encompasses Lee's upbringing as the son of David Levy, who brought Charles Addams' famed comic The Addams Family from the pages of The New Yorker to television nationwide. The book begins with the backstory of Lee's birth and how he ended up with a surname that was not Levy. He describes the acrimonious relationship between his mother and his paternal grandparents, who hated both the daughters-in-law of their otherwise loyal sons, Charles and David. Lee takes us into his home, growing up with Miss America Lucille Wilds as a mother with her own backstory, rounding out an already full family history. Lance was a spunky child who played a little piano alongside his sister Linda, while his parents' marriage kept falling apart. America's model family was not anywhere as near a Dream Team as it appeared. “We knew the perfect family they tried in their different ways to assemble around us was an illusion.”

I'm a couple of generations behind the original incantation of The Addams Family on television, attaching memories to Nina Ricci and not being able to pick Lisa Loring out of a line-up of Wednesday Addams look-alikes, but I do remember occasionally catching the black and white version on the tube. I'm unfamiliar with the legacy of David Levy or Lucille Wilds, having first heard of them in Family Matters by Lance Lee. While that may seem to be a disadvantage, it allowed me to read Lee's work without any preconceived notions. The book is incredibly well written and it is entertaining as a stand-alone memoir. The landscape of a mid-century American family is fascinating in its own right and, perhaps even more engrossing, is the compilation of original poetry that Lee includes throughout the book. The stand-out is the piece What A Man Gives in which Lee uses verse to depict his father with a profound honesty that is both uncomfortable and beautiful. A lot of people have tales of broken family homes and secrets that remain in their old houses, but not everyone is the son of David Levy - and not everybody is as talented as Lance Lee. Highly recommended.