My Family's Life on Both Sides of the Law

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Book Description

A prismatic, provocative look at one family—led by a charismatic, defense attorney father—whose bonds exist on both sides of the law

The Siegels of New York are a singular creation—quirky, idealistic, shaped in large part by Robert Anthony Siegel’s father, a lovable, impossible man of gargantuan appetites and sloppy ethics, a criminal defense attorney who loved his drug–dealing clients a little too much and went to prison as a result. Siegel’s mother decided to pour her energies into making her children art–loving mavens of fine dining in international settings—all the things that his father was not—with Robert as her most targeted ally. Once out of prison, Siegel’s father struggled with depression, attempting to reenter legal practice, with age and finances nipping at his heels. Robert, as a son and later as an author, attempts to put all of these pieces together to make a coherent shape of family before realizing that perhaps no such thing exists.

Where is the thin, permeable line between right and wrong? How does one family join the greater world of normal people beyond the demimonde of drug dealers, bikers, schemers, rock musicians, and artists that swirled around them? Criminals explores those questions without easy judgments, creating a prism of an eccentric collection of characters bound together as the mysterious tribe of family.

About the Author

Praise For This Book

Praise for Criminals

"A mature and formidable talent." —Wilmington Star News

"Lies large and small held the family together. This essential dishonesty set Robert Anthony Siegel on his mission to find some semblance of truth in his memories of them. He can’t deliver them moral redemption in the end; that would be too dishonest. But this collection of loosely connected yet inseparable essays is strangely successful as a criminal defense." —The Weekly Standard

"Moody, often funny, evocative of a New York in the late '70s and '80s, Criminals is a book for readers who appreciate a great sentence. The writing is excellent.” —Marion Winik, WYPR

"On the outside was a picture of a middle–class, urban attorney's family. On the inside was a complicated web of intrigue, dubious associations, and unwavering love. Robert Siegel's story of growing up in New York City in the 1970s captures all of the grit and electricity and infamy of that era through the rise and fall of his idiosyncratic father. The Siegels are a family you won't soon forget." —Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters

"Robert Siegel’s unforgettable memoir seems at first like a rogue’s gallery of brilliant con–artists and ex–cons revolving around the author’s father, who was both. Before long, however, these often–hilarious essays and exquisite, Basho–like vignettes settle into a wondrous machine held together by Siegel’s spare yet immensely powerful sentences—each hammered into place, one at a time, by love." —Michael White, author of Travels in Vermeer

"Clear–eyed, open–hearted, and possessed of a stunning moral and emotional intelligence, Criminals takes its place alongside Geoffrey Wolf’s The Duke of Deception as an essential American family chronicle." —Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine

"Robert Anthony Siegel has written a poignant and hilarious memoir about growing up in the crosshairs of culture and crime, with parents who believe the humiliation of a stint in jail can be assuaged with a serving of escargot. It is a unique and beautiful life story, the sort of highbrow literary memoir Robert’s art–aficionado mother would swoon over." —Elizabeth Cohen, author of The Family on Beartown Road

"Okay, all unhappy families are different, but few are as gloriously different as Robert Anthony Siegel's, whose unhappiness was mitigated—and sometimes aggravated—by an inordinate intensity of love. Siegel renders them, and the lowlifes, outlaws, and dirtbags who orbited around them, with a Dickensian gusto for the grotesque, the compassion of a hip Malamud, and language as double–jointed as Bellow's. How astonishing that a book that contains so much sorrow can be so pleasurable. I couldn't stop reading it." —Peter Trachtenberg, author of 7 Tattoos and Another Insane Devotion

"Robert Anthony Siegel writes with grace, candor, and compassion about his unusual relationship with a set of complex parents—particularly his larger–than–life father, who rockets off the page, authentic in every detail. Criminals is a brave and mesmerizing family memoir." —Linda Gray Sexton, author of Searching For Mercy Street: My Journey Back To My Mother, Anne Sexton and Half In Love: Surviving The Legacy Of Suicide

"In his deeply personal and compassionate collection of essays, Criminals, Robert Anthony Siegel explores his unusual upbringing as the son of a charming, erratic criminal defense attorney, whose ethically dubious practices eventually send him to prison, and a culturally eloquent mother who was always reaching for more. Siegel’s writing is breathtaking—I had to take a walk around the block after reading the crushing, beautiful title essay." —BookPage

"Siegel, author of the novels All the Money in the World (1997) and All Will Be Revealed (2007), has written an engrossing, highly readable memoir in essays about growing up in New York in the 1970s . . . Many of Siegel’s essays about his loving, if unusual, family focus on childhood insecurities . . . [T]his is a tender portrait of family dysfunction."—Booklist

"Siegel displays his strengths in this memoir: lean, acute prose and sharply recalled environmental details of New York City in the 1970s and '80s. He examines the familial ties that bind with love and exasperation, and his portrait of his family's self–destructive contradictions is probing and memorable . . . Dramatic, keenly observed memoir of familial entropy set against the urban "bad old days."" —Kirkus Reviews