The Critic's Daughter: A Memoir (Hardcover)

The Critic's Daughter: A Memoir By Priscilla Gilman Cover Image
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A Washington Post Best Book of 2023 • A New York Times Book Critics' Favorite of 2023 • One of the Eighteen Books Lilith Loved in 2023 • A top book of 2023 for Bookreporter's Harvey Freedenberg • One of The Book Maven and LA Times Book Critic Bethanne Patrick's Ten Best NonFiction Books of 2023

An exquisitely rendered portrait of a unique father-daughter relationship and a moving memoir of family and identity.

Growing up on the Upper West Side of New York City in the 1970s, in an apartment filled with dazzling literary and artistic characters, Priscilla Gilman worshiped her brilliant, adoring, and mercurial father, the writer, theater critic, and Yale School of Drama professor Richard Gilman. But when Priscilla was ten years old, her mother, renowned literary agent Lynn Nesbit, abruptly announced that she was ending the marriage. The resulting cascade of disturbing revelations—about her parents’ hollow marriage, her father’s double life and tortured sexual identity—fundamentally changed Priscilla’s perception of her father, as she attempted to protect him from the depression that had long shadowed him.

A wrenching story about what it means to be the daughter of a demanding parent, a revelatory window into the impact of divorce, and a searching reflection on the nature of art and criticism, The Critic’s Daughter is an unflinching account of loss and grief—and a radiant testament of forgiveness and love.

About the Author

Priscilla Gilman is the author of the memoir The Anti-Romantic Child and a former professor of English literature at Yale University and Vassar College. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; and elsewhere. She lives in New York City.

Praise For…

Loss, grief, criticism, and love mix and mingle in this moving, literary memoir, one of the best father/daughter memoirs around.
— Zibby Owens - Good Morning America

A penetrating, plangent memoir, electric with emotional urgency and alive with self-awareness... Gilman has the gumption to look at her father, her mother and herself with clarity and without apology. She wonders if she can make radical honesty 'an act of love.' Her efforts are brave, and bracing.
— Nneka McGuire - Wall Street Journal

This revealing and clearly heartfelt memoir—a love letter to her father that doesn’t obscure the difficult and frustrating aspects of their relationship—works precisely because Gilman delivers a detailed portrait of her father, proverbial warts and all... She certainly provides the rest of us with a daughter’s thoughtful and empathetic profile of her dad.
— Daneet Steffens - Boston Globe

With bracing honesty, The Critic’s Daughter, Priscilla Gilman’s perspicacious memoir, unmasks the privilege and the burden of her beloved father’s life and his literary legacy...The Critic’s Daughter spotlights an era of formidable criticism accomplished with conscious clarity. It’s a reminder that criticism is a necessary art form. But the book is even more than that...Gilman’s skills as a memoirist, playwright, poet, critic, dramaturge, and family historian set a high bar.

— Yvonne Conza - BOMB Magazine

Priscilla Gilman tells a fascinating story about her dynamic parents and the literary world that they inhabited... While The Critic’s Daughter concerns itself with her parents’ marriage and its aftermath, it’s very much a book about the way one develops and nurtures a fascination with the arts through enthusiasm, criticism, and commerce.

— Lauren LeBlanc - LitHub

The Critic’s Daughter is about the complex love between a parent and a child... The memoir genre...pumps out innumerable rote tales of becoming, of breaking free, of learning to 'direct' one’s own life. It offers few stories of being and remaining entangled... The Critic’s Daughter is an account of a love that’s neither takeoff strip nor landing pad, a child’s confounding adoration for her parent that’s neither really resolved nor extinguished.

— Eve Fairbanks - Washington Post

One of the reasons I loved Gilman’s book is that through her father she makes a case for criticism as a worthwhile practice... The Critic’s Daughter is a book about a lot of things, but one of them is this: that a fierce and powerful voice, a voice that some people were afraid to hear, can disguise an awful lot of trouble and pain. The critic’s daughter—the writer, as opposed to the book—has the tenderness, the acuity, and the facility to explore her father and her relationship to him in ways that cannot help but resonate. Maybe this is because all of us are the children of critics, in one way or another.

— Nick Hornby - The Believer

Intimate, thoughtful... For me, this memoir read as a rare confluence of things—not so much a 'Daddy Dearest' settling of scores, but a sincere attempt to untangle a father-daughter knot of love, hurt, and grief... [S]earing.
— Misha Berson - American Theatre

In capturing the essence of its challenging subject, The Critic's Daughter is a rare combination of honesty, warmheartedness and exquisite writing... Richard Gilman would be proud of the eloquence and grace with which she has done it.

— Harvey Freedenberg - BookReporter

The Critic’s Daughter hits home not just as an insider’s chronicle of a notable literary family, but as a depiction of the pain a broken marriage inflicts... Gilman’s memoir is testament to an upbringing infused with a love of language and literature.

— Alice Sparberg Alexiou - Lilith

The Critic’s Daughter is an exquisite and rare example of how the memoir needs as much inventiveness in scope and form as our most lush fiction and poetry. Priscilla Gilman writes sentences I never see coming, and those sentences splinter into a textured model of how to write about—and through—art, perpetual discovery, and parenting. I’ve read few books in my life as skillfully executed and willfully conceived as The Critic’s Daughter. This should not work. But my goodness, it just does.

— Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

The Critic’s Daughter holds so many joys in store for you: The joy of disappearing into a finely crafted world—in this case, of Gilman’s mind, heart, and personal history. The joy of encountering a text sprinkled with insights, like so many pearls. But most of all, the joy of basking in Priscilla Gilman’s capacious love—for her father, for her family, and for you, her reader.

— Susan Cain, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet and Quiet

Gilman delightfully weaves the television shows, plays, and movies of her childhood into the story... [T]he heart of this memoir is the unusually powerful, fraught, and enduring father-daughter relationship. Gilman creates an emotional map of the catastrophic disruption of divorce and the devotion of a child for her parent despite his failings.
— Jane Constantineau - New York Journal of Books

A brilliant, gorgeous, miracle of a book.
— Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club and We Should Not Be Friends

Passionate, resonant, and beautifully written…Evokes both a uniquely brilliant and troubled man and the poignantly relatable essence of the father-daughter connection.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Gilman writes with resplendent clarity, meticulous candor, and incandescent love forged in the fire of extraordinarily demanding family dynamics... Gilman incisively charts her remarkable father’s intense ups-and-downs and lucidly analyzes her own struggles in a richly involving chronicle gracefully laced with literary allusions, compassion, and wisdom.
— Booklist (starred review)

Poignant... Bibliophiles will enjoy the literary cameos (Joan Didion, Toni Morrison) and reflections on literature, but Gilman’s wrenching recollections of marital, and familial, dissolution are near-universal. This is an eye-opening testament to the lasting wounds of divorce.
— Publishers Weekly

The Critic’s Daughter is first and foremost a very touching love story about a father, a daughter, and their unbreakable bond. Priscilla Gilman writes with eloquence and absolute candor of her late father Richard Gilman, the esteemed, brilliant, but deeply troubled drama and literary critic.… An unforgettable read, The Critic’s Daughter is as entertaining as it is moving.

— James Lapine, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright

The Critic's Daughter is an exquisite love song, a riveting story, a book for our time. Any daughter with a father, anyone who has been part of a family, anyone who has struggled with loving, anyone interested in literary criticism, or the theater, or life, this is a book for you.

— Andre Gregory, theater director, writer, and star of My Dinner With Andre

The daughter of an unsparing critic, Priscilla Gilman has written a book her father would have deeply admired: a tender, unflinching memoir that is also a searching reflection on the relationship between criticism and love. The father she lost is vividly captured in this moving, gracefully written, bracingly honest book.
— Eyal Press, author of Dirty Work

Captivating and heartfelt... Gilman’s reflections on her father’s work, as well as her own struggles with identity, are both heartbreaking and inspiring... The Critic’s Daughter is an honest and moving exploration of family, identity, and the human experience. It is a must-read for anyone looking for an intimate and honest look into the life of a literary family.

— EU Times
Product Details
ISBN: 9780393651324
ISBN-10: 0393651320
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: February 7th, 2023
Pages: 304
Language: English