Bernard Cooper,
The Bill from My Father: A Memoir
(Simon & Schuster, 2006)

Bernard Cooper published his memoir about his relationship with his father a full 10 years after an editor suggested the topic. The editor was inspired by an essay Cooper published about his eccentric father -- an essay the author desperately tried to hide from his father, for fear he would be enraged about its revelations.

Cooper clearly agonized about his portrayal of his father -- how do you talk about a flawed, angry, sarcastic and eccentric man in a positive light, without demonizing him? Well, Mr. Cooper, if no one has said it to you yet, let me say it loud and clear: your love for your father shone throughout your prose, even as he billed you for $2 million dollars, even as he sued all your family members, even as he wrote you off for minor offenses. As I reader, I came to love and respect your father, with all his quirks included.

Edward Cooper looms larger than life. His situation with the phone company reveals all -- the author's father (Edward) had a $1,000 phone bill due to calling a televangelist recommended by his nurse/girlfriend, but he refused to pay it. He got embroiled in a months-long battle with the phone company, threatening litigation (Edward had been a famed Los Angeles divorce attorney back in the day). As a last resort, a phone company supervisor called Edward's son, our author, who was listed as an emergency contact on the account. The author wondered about Edward's decision to list his sit-around-and-daydream/write son as a contact: "He couldn't have named a next door neighbor due to his long-standing feud with the neighbors on the right, because their sprinklers made the lawn soggy on his side of the property line, and with the neighbors on the left, because he was sure their automatic garage door opener vibrated powerfully enough to cause hairline cracks in our living room walls. Even if he's arrived at my name after excluding half of Los Angeles, I felt chosen, honored, exonerated."

No summary of Bernard's complex relationship with his father and his decades-older brothers could do this book justice. Bernard was an accomplished writer before he embarked on the most challenging task of his career -- portraying his father in the written word. All I can say it that you need to read this book, along with Josh Kilmer-Purcell's debut memoir.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
15 July 2006

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