Though the title makes mention of infidelity, this book is about fidelity to one’s past, about keeping stories alive and trying to understand them. Many of Katharine Weber’s family members are woven into the narrative, but the author, best known for her novel Triangle, has chosen to focus on her father, Sidney Kaufman, and her maternal grandmother, Kay Swift. Both are long deceased, and Weber herself is in her mid-50s — she seems to be digging deep to write definitively about all that is no more in her family.
Swift gets top billing, along with her longtime lover George Gershwin, but the first portion of the book is devoted to Kaufman, a seemingly accomplished scoundrel whose life appears to have been a mix of illusion and delusion. Kaufman came from immigrant parents and ended up in the film industry, though largely on its margins — you won’t find his name in many credits (“Most of my father’s movie career took place at the intersection of making it and making it up,” Weber writes). As described here, he was a terrible husband —unfaithful and totally lacking in empathy for his very passive wife. His relationship with his only daughter was based on his being reliably unreliable, at least, that is, until he stopped talking to her altogether.
The book takes a sharp turn when Weber switches her focus to her grandmother, who married a Warburg before falling for a Gershwin. Their romance lasted a decade and was not fully over at the time of the composer’s tragic death. (Weber has much of interest to say on the horrifying circumstances of his demise.) A talented musical figure in her own right, Swift moved in glamorous circles and lived a fascinating life, though ultimately she didn’t do that much parenting, either. Still, Swift’s vibrancy comes across as a welcome counterbalance to Kaufman’s personality.
The book is chock full of interesting stories well told. Weber makes it clear that the events she portrays, even the ones that happened before her birth, are both key to understanding who she is and also worth remembering for their own sake.