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House of Happy Endings

A Memoir

Leslie Garis

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Howard Garis, creator of the famed Uncle Wiggily series, along with his wife, Lilian, were phenomenally productive writers of popular children's series--including The Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift--from the turn of the century to the 1950s. In a large, romantic house in Amherst, Massachusetts, Leslie Garis, her two brothers, and their parents and grandparents aimed to live a life that mirrored the idyllic world the elder Garises created nonstop. But inside The Dell--where Robert Frost often sat in conversation over sherry, and stories appeared to spring from the very air--all was not right.
 
Roger Garis's inability to match his parents' success in his own work as playwright, novelist, and magazine writer led to his conviction that he was a failure as father, husband, and son, and eventually deepened into mental illness characterized by raging mood swings, drug abuse, and bouts of debilitating and destructive depression. House of Happy Endings is Leslie Garis's mesmerizing, tender, and harrowing account of coming of age in a wildly imaginative, loving, but fatally wounded family.
Howard Garis, creator of the famed Uncle Wiggily series, along with his wife, Lilian, were phenomenally productive writers of popular children's series--including The Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift--from the turn of the century to the 1950s. In a large, romantic house in Amherst, Massachusetts, Leslie Garis, her two brothers, and their parents and grandparents aimed to live a life that mirrored the idyllic world the elder Garises created nonstop. But inside The Dell--where Robert Frost often sat in conversation over sherry, and stories appeared to spring from the very air--all was not right. Roger Garis's inability to match his parents' success in his own work as playwright, novelist, and magazine writer led to his conviction that he was a failure as father, husband, and son, and eventually deepened into mental illness characterized by raging mood swings, drug abuse, and bouts of debilitating and destructive depression. House of Happy Endings is Leslie Garis's mesmerizing, tender, and harrowing account of coming of age in a wildly imaginative, loving, but fatally wounded family.

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Chapter One

 

1953: Amherst, Massachusetts

 

In those years I spent a lot of time in the dumbwaiter, moving up and down behind the walls, listening to voices. I sat with my knees up: sometimes I clasped my arms around my legs, sometimes I kept my hands on the rope that extended in a loop from the top of the house to the bottom. Two lengths, thick

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REVIEWS

Praise for House of Happy Endings

“[Garis] deftly works through the evidence, constructing moving and memorable portraits of her family members . . . There is no happy ending to this strange tale, which weaves its spell in the telling.” —William Grimes, The New York Times
 
“Anybody who read Uncle Wiggily and The Bobbsey Twins thinking, ‘Why isn't my family like that?’ will count their ancestral blessings when they pick up this riveting tale, which unmasks the agonized reality behind the idyll. The prose is lucid, unornamented, but full of feeling.  To enter this book is to assume the watchful air of a child who feels that it is up to her to hold together a family that is spinning apart with terrific centripetal force.” —Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club and Cherry
 
“House of Happy Endings conveys an exquisite restraint, a measured thoughtfulness that is simply eloquent. At the same time it renders the terrible pain of its people in the most urgent way. A sense of the helplessness of love in the face of an ongoing personal disintegration, the panic of articulate educated people enduring a progressive disaster, give the story a fearsome suspense that is absolutely riveting. Its balance of judicious, insightful reflection and the evocation of heartbreak is truly rare; it’s what distinguishes the best memoirs from the rest. Some exist beyond their subject as works of literature and I truly believe that this is one.”  —Robert Stone
 
 “Leslie Garis’ grandfather wrote Uncle Wiggily, her grandmother The Bobbsey Twins—between them Tom Swift and hundreds of other children’s stories. These benign characters of America’s childhood float over the Garis family like a Macy’s Thanksgiving day Parade in hell, exacting a fearful penalty on three generations. Leslie Garis has written a searing and chillingly objective memoir, House of Happy Endings, that so transcends the ‘problem family’ genre it becomes a dissection of the American family itself, its values, its mores, its dreams.”  —John Guare, author of The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation
“[Garis] deftly works through the evidence, constructing moving and memorable portraits of her family members . . . There is no happy ending to this strange tale, which weaves its spell in the telling.” —William Grimes, The New York Times
 
“Anybody who read Uncle Wiggily and The Bobbsey Twins thinking, ‘Why isn't my family like that?’ will count their ancestral blessings when they pick up this riveting tale, which unmasks the agonized reality behind the idyll. The prose is lucid, unornamented, but full of feeling.  To enter this book is to assume the watchful air of a child who feels that it is up to her to hold together a family that is spinning apart with terrific centripetal force.” —Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club and Cherry
 
“House of Happy Endings conveys an exquisite restraint, a measured thoughtfulness that is simply eloquent. At the same time it renders the terrible pain of its people in the most urgent way. A sense of the helplessness of love in the face of an ongoing personal disintegration, the panic of articulate educated people enduring a progressive disaster, give the story a fearsome suspense that is absolutely riveting. Its balance of judicious, insightful reflection and the evocation of heartbreak is truly rare; it’s what distinguishes the best memoirs from the rest. Some exist beyond their subject as works of literature and I truly believe that this is one.”  —Robert Stone
 
 “Leslie Garis’ grandfather wrote Uncle Wiggily, her grandmother The Bobbsey Twins—between them Tom Swift and hundreds of other children’s stories. These benign characters of America’s childhood float over the Garis family like a Macy’s Thanksgiving day Parade in hell, exacting a fearful penalty on three generations. Leslie Garis has written a searing and chillingly objective memoir, House of Happy Endings, that so transcends the ‘problem family’ genre it becomes a dissection of the American family itself, its values, its mores, its dreams.”  —John Guare, author of The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Leslie Garis

  • Leslie Garis has written on literary subjects for many national magazines and newspapers. She is best known for New York Times Magazine profiles of such writers as Georges Simenon, Rebecca West, John Fowles, Harold Pinter, Joan Didion, and Susan Sontag.
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Available Formats and Book Details

House of Happy Endings

A Memoir

Leslie Garis

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FROM THE PUBLISHER

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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