Books: The Parent Booby Trap

Two unsparing memoirs demonstrate how to survive childhood in a weird family: any way you can

There has always been a game of one-downsmanship among modern memoirists as to who has the weirdest, most dysfunctional, most damaging parents. Granted, Kathryn Har- rison more or less ran the table with 1997's The Kiss, which describes her four-year affair with her father, and Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes) and Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors) aren't far behind. But there's spirited competition for fourth place. Two new memoirs, Michael Rips' The Face of a Naked Lady (Houghton Mifflin; 192 pages) and Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle (Scribner; 288 pages), are worthy contenders.

Rips believed that his father was the epitome of...

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