Goodreads review

A Great Family Tale Disguised as an “Awful” Book

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Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

4 star

4 Stars

I’m a big fan of Alexandra Fuller’s writing. I fell in love with her work when I lived in Zambia and stumbled upon her earlier non-fiction masterpieces about life, love, and tragedy growing up in southern Africa. A native of Zimbabwe who grew up in Zambia and now lives in the United States, this very talented writer weaves cheeky and amusing family narratives into her stories like none I’ve read.

While entertaining and emotionally fulfilling, the unflattering portrayal of her mother in her earlier book “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” — or as her mother calls, it, an “Awful” book — left Fuller and her parents with strained relations. The resulting tension comes to a head in this book. Fuller’s brutal honesty, and likely some embellishment of her family’s — especially her mom’s — quirky and erratic behavior in her earlier book left her with the unenviable task of writing a sequel that portrayed her parents in a more positive light in order to improve relations with “mum and dad.” This book is an obvious “mea culpa” that atones for her earlier “Awful” book.

“Cocktail” tells the tale of Fuller’s mother and father from childhood to the present. The realistic, almost staid manner in which she rolls out the story — such as instances that were once unchecked but are now vetted by her mother — leaves the reader less satisfied than her earlier work. I wondered which depiction of her parents, the earlier one or this one, was more accurate, although I suspect the latter. Fuller’s attempt to redeem herself by emulating her folks in this book is noble but leaves them less interesting.

The narrative broken up into discreet stories meanders in the author’s unique stream-of-consciousness. The book doesn’t hold together as well as it did in her earlier work. While the order seems to be chronological, it’s not clear why she choose to include certain stories except that they paint her mother and father in a positive light. I finished the book longing for more juicy stories about her family’s madcap escapades, but it was not to be. Sensationalism was not Fuller’s intention this time. The truth seems a bit bland compared to her fanciful tales.

I still adore Fuller’s work. I give this book 4 stars. I recommend first reading the prequel, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” to set the stage for this book, but don’t expect “Cocktail” to have the same pizzazz.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is now available at: