‘Til Death Do You Part: And Other Thoughts About Family

Annabelle Gurwitch's humorous memoir, Wherever You Go, There They Are, captures how one is forever in the thralls of the family -- no matter the form that family takes.

Family — it’s more than blood. These people shape our lives because they are our lives. It’s a bond, a tie — whether intentional or not. Sure, blood family gets all the best stories and movies. That’s because you just can’t get away from them sometimes. There’s stickiness, an incessant tension present. That’s what the title of Annabelle Gurwitch’s new memoir, Wherever You Go, There They Are refers to, but there’s more to the term ‘family’ than just your direct relatives, and Gurwitch knows this. She spends the pages of her memoir examining and evaluating the features of all of her different ‘families’, whether blood, hobby, or niche.

Gurwitch didn’t start out as a writer. Her career is wide and long and varied. She graduated from high school in 1980 and began acting, getting spots in just about every other failed TV show you wish you could forget about, as well as some successful ones like Seinfeld and Tales From the Crypt. She was regularly cast in low-budget movies, including such enduring classics like Your Mother Wears Combat Boots (1989), Where the Hell’s That Gold?!?! (1988), and Encino Woman (1996). Later, she became an award-winning theatrical performer.

Basically, she has her hands all over show business, and this varied life experience lends itself to her recent foray into long-form writing because she has perspective — a ton of it. She’s seen the bottom end of the industry and she’s rubbed shoulders with stars. With such a breadth of life experience, Gurwitch has had a brush in with many different types of families, or ‘tribes’ as she sometimes calls them throughout her memoir. We get deep descriptions of her immediate family, an analysis of pets, the bonds created on the set of a play, the limits of ‘sisterhood’, and many other connections.

The string that holds the book together is the immediate family. She posits, “…this is the tribe whose genetic markers I’ve inherited, along with a tendency toward moles, outsized earlobes, and the overshare.” Staying true to her words, she does overshare, but mostly about her parents. The book both begins and ends with loving descriptions of her father and spends whole chapters describing her mother — of course it does. These are her icons, her biggest influences in life.

Fortunately for the reader, her parents’ lives are a window worth looking into. Her descriptions of her childhood bring to mind the families from The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), mostly because they are quite eccentric and also just a tad shady. There’s gambling and infidelity, but there’s no shame. When Gruwitch asked her father if telling his life story was OK with him, he replied, “If you think there is money in it, go for it.” I think that little quote makes for a pretty decent peek into the mind of Harry Gurwitch, but the book goes deeper.

Although her immediate family is the heart of the book, the most interesting stories involve her extended, fabricated ‘families’. “And They Shall Enter Singing the Songs of Mumford and Sons” dives into the congregations of atheists, where at one particularly large meeting, Gurwitch blurts, “I’m so glad to be here with my tribe.” “Into the Mystic” tells us the story of her ‘family’ of spiritually kindred souls who may or may not have believed they were predestined to get picked up by extra-terrestrials.

For me, the best story, “What Price Sisterhood Now”, deals with the perceived liabilities of friendship. After being propositioned to join a multi-level marketing company selling beauty products, Gurwitch is burdened with the guilt of not adequately being able to support all of her sisters. She wrestles with the responsibilities of friendship and comes to some interesting conclusions. This story and a few others dig deep into the duties of the members of a family, and they are most enlightening of the bunch.

If the stories being told are the strength of the book, the writing is the weakness. That’s not to say that her writing is bad. To this reviewer though, she loses her voice occasionally throughout the 320 pages of Wherever You Go, There They Are. At the beginning, Gurwitch sets herself up as a humor writer, and although not to my liking, I can see the appeal of her humor for some. Later, though, the content of the book can get overly descriptive, and this is where she loses her voice. Whole pages sometimes seem like a conversation with a family member about the details of a legal document. Although thematically connected to the book’s prevailing motif, it’s still the .

The writing becomes more focused towards the end, where there’s a noticeable shift towards the bittersweet. As her parents age, the author’s desire to be present and dutiful overpowers her. This is where the love and nostalgia laced throughout the writing becomes the most genuine. That’s the point of a family though — to be there. Wherever You Go, There They Are ends with a sad smirk, but that’s just like family. Sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s happy, but they’re always there.

RATING 6 / 10
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