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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy: A Family Memoir of Scandal and Greed in the Meat Industry (Poetic License) by Gretchen Cherington is an intensely personal and thoughtful memoir recounting her life as the daughter of a famous father. The author’s father was one of the most celebrated U.S. poets of the twentieth century; Richard Eberhart, Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and the recipient of numerous academic honors. While her life was undoubtedly enriched by the company and friendship of some of the most celebrated literary geniuses of the century, growing up in a household such as hers also had its dark and sinister side that would trouble and haunt the author for decades during her adult years as she sought to establish her own life, career, and family. Along with the stories of her celebrated father and her mother, the author delves into the family history to discover where her father had emerged from. She records the travails of her grandfather, a successful executive at Hormel Foods, one of the leading meat producers in the 1920s. A major embezzlement that her grandfather was partially blamed for resulted in the family’s downward slide in wealth and status. Her grandmother’s terminal illness would be a seminal event in her father’s young life and laid the foundation for his character and behavior in later years.
The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy is interesting from the perspective that rather than being a memoir from a famous person, it is a personal account of the effects of that fame and unusual lifestyle on a child of the celebrity. Author Gretchen Cherington takes us inside the hectic life of a poet, his colleagues, and his close friends. What I gained most from this work was the understanding that the effect of even minor abuse can be deep and intensely disturbing, especially when it occurs from someone in whom the child vests complete and utter trust and faith. That Richard Eberhart was a narcissist is without question from this memoir. The author describes him as a man who believed the universe revolved around him and his ideas. The fact that he was comfortable allowing his private and intensely personal love letters to and from his mistress to be part of his public records bears this out. I found it amusing that an analysis of his public works, despite his celebrated status, reveals, as the author so eloquently puts it, “many poems that simply are not that good.” I appreciated that the author chose to explore more of the family’s history in an attempt to understand the behavior and actions of a man who, for many, was greater than life, but who to Gretchen Cherington was a deeply flawed human being. I enjoyed this read and appreciated the cathartic benefit it must have had for the author.