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Borrowed Finery
PAULA FOX

Borrowed Finery by Paula Fox
19 reviews (2001) (224p)
New York TimesĀ® Best Nonfiction Books

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Book Description
Born in the 1920s to nomadic, bohemian parents, Paula Fox is left at birth in a Manhattan orphanage, then cared for by a poor yet cultivated minister in upstate New York. Her parents, however, soon resurface. Her handsome father is a hard-drinking screenwriter who is, for young Paula, "part ally, part betrayer." Her mother is given to icy bursts of temper that punctuate a deep indifference. How, Fox wonders, is this woman "enough of an organic being to have carried me in her belly"?

Never sharing more than a few moments with his daughter, Fox's father allows her to be shuttled from New York City, where she lives with her passive Spanish grandmother, to Cuba, where she roams freely on a relative's sugarcane plantation, to California, where she finds herself cast upon Hollywood's seedy margins. The thread binding these wanderings is the "borrowed finery" of the title-a few pieces of clothing, almost always lent by kindhearted strangers, which offer Fox a rare glimpse of permanency.

Instantly embraced by reviewers and readers as a classic, this astonishing memoir of a writer's highly unusual beginnings is unforgettable.


Amazon.com Review
In this elegant, wrenching memoir, Paula Fox looks at her childhood with the same detached acceptance of life's arbitrary cruelties that informs such acclaimed novels as Desperate Characters. Born in 1923, she was abandoned at a Manhattan foundling home by her alcoholic father at the insistence of her panic-stricken, 19-year-old mother. Paul and Elsie Fox were in no way prepared to take on the responsibility of a child, although they couldn't leave her alone either. Fox's austere narrative unflinchingly describes the couple swooping down on their daughter, who was being raised in upstate New York by a kindly minister, for visits that were as alarming as they were intermittent. For reasons best known to themselves (Fox does not attempt to analyze their motives), they removed her from the minister's home when she was 6, then bounced her among relatives, schools, and their own disordered care for the next 12 years, from Hollywood and Long Island to Cuba and Montreal. The restraint with which Fox describes these traumas is a reproach to all those maudlin memoirs of family dysfunction that have been so prevalent in recent years. She demonstrates that you can write about painful experiences honestly without wallowing in self-pity, and her prose here is as perfectly calibrated as it is in her novels. Thank goodness that this sad story is leavened by a running counterpoint of short passages showing young Paula discovering the pleasure of words and the power of literature. Though she too had an unwanted baby at an early age, the book closes with a moving scene of the author's reunion with the daughter she gave up for adoption. --Wendy Smith


Paula Fox Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 0  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 0  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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