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My Family's Life on Both Sides of the Law

List Price: $16.95

July 16, 2019 | Paperback | 5.5 x 8.25, 256 pages | ISBN 9781640092273
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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.

ROBERT ANTHONY SIEGEL is the author of two novels, All the Money in the World and All Will Be Revealed. His work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Los Angeles TimesSmithsonianThe Paris ReviewThe Oxford American, and Tin House, among other venues. Robert has been a Fulbright Scholar at Tunghai University in Taiwan and a Mombukagakusho Fellow at the University of Tokyo in Japan. Other awards include O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center and the Michener-Copernicus Society.


Praise for Criminals

Newsday’s New This Week

“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

“Relayed in 16 achronological essays interspersed with brief, elegiac prose interludes, Criminals executes a perceptive portrait of a marriage, the weirdness of a couple with profoundly disparate values. Siegel’s delicate narration conveys these flawed adults as seen through the indiscriminate eyes of a child, yet locates their shortcomings as parents . . . The most compelling essays are reflections of Siegel’s keenly sensitive eye, discerning tension and pathos in moments others would reasonably bypass . . . The overall achronological structure, which further extends to the nested anecdotes in many of the essays, makes for a dreamlike, wistful ambience . . . Siegel’s voice and incisive scrutiny result in standalone triumphs . . . Criminals isn’t a panoramic romp so much as a poetic evocation of Siegel’s adolescent mind, conflicted accounts of feeling powerless to soothe the languishing personalities around him. It is, at base, about forms and degrees of yearning . . . Witnessing such a sharp writer make peace with his remarkable origins is a thrill.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“A mature and formidable talent.” —Wilmington Star News

“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

“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 . . . This is a tender portrait of family dysfunction.” —Booklist

“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 Anthony 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 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

“Clear-eyed, openhearted, 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 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

“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’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

Praise for All Will Be Revealed

“Well-turned and elegant . . . gloriously complex.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Set in late 19th-century New York City, Siegel’s second novel provides a fascinating tour of a pornographer’s studio and a reluctant spiritual medium’s parlor . . . a richly detailed and seedily seductive narrative.” —Publishers Weekly

“Siegel is skillful at incorporating into his narrative many fascinating details about photography and spiritualism . . . he draws readers into the emotional lives of two stunted people who exploit others’ vulnerabilities while failing to understand their own. This well-crafted novel offers both an unusual plotline and richly atmospheric settings.” —Booklist

“The story unfolds dramatically as both lovers attempt to reconcile with ghosts from their past, fight those trying to separate them in the present, and, of course, admit their feelings for each other. Recommended.” —Library Journal

Praise for All The Money in the World

“Louis Glasser goes from rags to riches and back again. As a very successful defense attorney, he handles the cases of drug dealers, pornographers, and the shady elements of society. His motivation to succeed is not justice but money. He finds himself the target of an investigation and learns that his long-time client has fingered him in something dirty. Glasser, while greedy and self-serving, somehow manages to be a compassionate man as well, and Siegel unfolds a straightforward story of his downfall. Along the way, Jason, Glasser’s son, looks at his father with contempt, pity, and envy but also with love and a loyal belief in his innocence. Although this first novel is well written, there are questions left unanswered and subplots that float in and fizzle out. By the end there are no big moral lessons, no last-minute hero to save Glasser from prison. A melancholy tale; recommended for large collections.” –Library Journal

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