Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Feet of Clay Department

Way after the fact, I finally connect the dots about a couple of heroes (read anti-heroes) of my misspent youth, with varying results.

Tony Hendra is a brilliant writer and satirist who worked on National Lampoon, Spy (a guilty pleasure of mine), and the movie Spinal Tap. Lately he has written the spiritual confessional Father Joe (2004) and the anti-evangelical fantasy (imagine a book-length riff on the Kris Kristofferson song "Jesus Was a Capricorn") The Messiah of Morris Avenue. Father Joe was supposed to be a purging of sorts, a middle-aged dissolute’s account of his discovery of grace and spirituality through his friendship with a monk. The always gloriously wrong Andrew Sullivan praised it to the skies. Maybe in his Sullivanish way when he wrote sentences like “These ideas of sin that we have are not really sin” he was speaking as much about himself as Hendra. Who knows? In any event Sullivan’s review made the book a runaway hit; this confessional of a debauched man who’d come clean and found a kind of acceptance was touted as the perfect Father’s Day gift.

I then found an amazing review by Carolyn See in the Washington Post:

To be frank, I didn't much care for the book…Hendra's voice was sour, peevish…I was snide, I suppose: "It's a book for men who think of themselves as trapped, misunderstood geniuses," I wrote, "so it should sell well"…

Flash forward a few weeks. I'm drinking coffee and watching morning television and there's a desperately nervous woman being interviewed. She's Tony Hendra's daughter and she's saying, in a barely audible voice, that her father molested her when she was a child…

The younger Hendra’s book, How to Cook Your Daughter (2006; the title comes from a short story written by her dad shortly before the alleged incidents begin) chronicles life in the 70s with her self-obsessed, drug-addled, philandering father. The older Hendra denied her allegations of abuse and suggested his daughter was mentally ill, but some legwork done by the New York Times confirmed many of the specifics. Perhaps the most damning fact, however, is Hendra’s subsequent behavior: cutting off all contact with his daughter, he has returned to writing satire but with a bitter partisan edge and a smugness reminiscent of Christopher Hitchens at his worst. He often blogs at the Huffington Post, where last Thanksgiving he offered a mock prayer that opened with a request for the speedy death of VP Cheney and rapidly went downhill from there. Even without his daughter’s revelations, it seems that any sort of conversion he experienced with Father Joe was short-lived.

In retrospect, a few of the bright lights from that era have prospered: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and P. J. O’Rourke come to mind. But for every O’Rourke (who incidentally, Hendra loathes, perhaps because he replaced Hendra as editor at National Lampoon) it seems there are dozens of Doug Kenneys, Michael O'Donoghues, and John Belushis. And Tony Hendras.

more to come...

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