Get local news delivered straight to your phone
We can't make City Paper without you
In writing his soulful new book, Family (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 386 pp., $23), Ian Frazier aimed to strike at the Alzheimer’s disease that emptied his father’s skull long before he died in 1987 and the liver cancer that, a year later, killed his mother before she could write the story herself. Riffling recollections like a photographer scanning contact sheets, Frazier enlarges frame after revelatory frame—his great-grandmother’s suicide, his brother’s death at 16 from leukemia—as well as joyous moments like helping his dad haul a sailboat ashore, riding in the way-back on a long trip, and his birthday parties, including one where the “cake” actually was a slab of solid chocolate icing. “The book definitely is a restoration of something that I saw disintegrate,” Frazier said. “Forgetting is really painful, especially for someone like my father, whose mind was his pride. Memory is the basis of everything, of culture.” Frazier’s initial focus was the Civil War, and the battles fought by the 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, recruited in the town of Norwalk, Ohio, home to Frazier’s antecedents. At Family‘s center is a long segment detailing the unit’s bloody battles around Northern Virginia, with the author’s trademark self-inserting perspective providing not only moments of lightness but deep sorrow. “I became interested in history once I had seen enough of it in my own life,” said Frazier, 43. “A lot of us grew up in the present, with no future in mind. Now, the future may be horrible but at least it exists. Suddenly there is this chain of responsibility going back.” Frazier reads from Family at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, at Olsson’s, 1200 F St. NW.