In the Shadow of Fame: A Memoir by the Daughter of Erik H. Erikson
Sue Erikson Bloland
That’s author Sue Erikson Bloland on the cover, the pumpkin-faced toddler in the arms of her father, renowned psychologist Erik Erikson. A book-length expansion of an essay Bloland wrote for Atlantic Monthly, In the Shadow of Fame promises to be a personal exploration of the unnatural condition of fame and its impact on the celebrity’s intimates. However, the text quickly dissolves into a spaghetti tangle of scattershot anecdotes and psychoanalytical profiles, only to return to the promised premise a few vastly more interesting chapters from the finish line.
Bloland’s desiccated prose is appropriate for a scientific abstract, but is bizarrely robotic and disassociated when recalling her own feelings and memories, and is in need of a stern edit. (It’s “Dad and I”, Sue, not “Dad and me.”) Here’s how she recounts the thunderclap moment her parents met at a masked ball in Vienna: “They revealed to each other a mutual desire to embrace a radically different way of life . . . more personally gratifying to them than the value systems they had rebelled against in their youth.”
The author “organizes” her recollections with a superficial, free-associative logic, without regard for suspense or interest or even basic chronological coherence. By page 20, we’ve crashed through Bruno Bettelheim’s theory of fairy tales, Bloland’s childhood unhappiness, the revelation of a sibling born with Down syndrome and institutionalized at birth, and an awkward attempt at a warm reminiscence of a childhood home, all in a bloodless grocery-list style.
The four final chapters at last own up to the promise of the title, and while some of the revelations about fame are only worthy of an E! sound bite, her comparison of the celebrity and the hero of a fairy tale is an interesting parallel. On the basis of these chapters (probably containing the marrow of her original essay), it’s easy to guess how Bloland’s original article looked like an excellent launch pad for a touching, witty, profound memoir. How unfortunate that the realization is none of the above. If Bloland were a community college enrollee who had just completed a mimeographed family history for internal enjoyment, I’d applaud her achievement. But the only reason this substandard memoir was hardbound and mass-produced is the inexorable pull of a famous name.