Screening Room: Family Pictures

The death of an elderly uncle prompts Alan Lightman (The Accidental Universe) to return to Memphis four decades after he headed north to college at Princeton, and the reminiscences that loss inspires are the foundation of his elegiac memoir, Screening Room: Family Pictures. Towering over this family story is the figure of the grandfather he idolized, Maurice Abraham Lightman, known as M.A., who built a chain of 63 movie theaters in seven Southern states while establishing himself as a world-class bridge player and womanizer. Lightman's depiction of his parents is a touching but honest one, capturing the pathos of two mismatched people who somehow endured a lengthy marriage. He movingly shares scenes with his 90-year-old father in the nursing home where his life draws to an end.

As much as this is a family story, it also deals frankly with Memphis's troubled racial past. Lightman grew up in the 1950s and '60s in a city that was every bit as benighted in its views on racial equality as any town in the deepest of the Deep South. He describes his father's role in quietly desegregating the family's Memphis movie theaters and offers a sympathetic portrait of the family's maid, Blanche, while confessing the bell he inherited that was "pure music" when it summoned her in his childhood now "cuts like a knife."

Lightman's memories flicker like the light from an old movie projector he meticulously describes in one of the book's many artfully constructed scenes. Like his incomparable novel Einstein's Dreams, this memoir is, at its core, a tender meditation on the passage of time. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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