Fascinating…disturbing…erudite…poetic…detailed…richly historical…painfully honest, and revealing all describe Garber’s memoir. I read her story with rapt attention as her brilliant, but often maniacal father, renown architect Woodie Garber relentlessly bent and enslaved his family to his will and whims.
Woodie was a Modernist and adherent of the French architect Le Corbusier. His designs were flat roofed, nearly all glass walls, inviting in natural light, making use of wood and stone in the interiors. It was furnished with Eames furniture, Bertoia sculpture, and pre-Columbian artifacts. Garber describes their home viewed from a distance at night appearing like an ocean liner will all lights blazing. Woodie’s designs can be seen around the city of Cincinnati where the children were raised. He designed the city’s public library and the towering, and much criticized Sander Hall, a 27 story glass-paneled dormitory, at the University of Cincinnati. Years later it was imploded.
The three children and their mother were enlisted to do heavy yard and garden work as they grew and preserved most of their own food. Landscaping went on for years, nearly all done by the family. Elizabeth sewed her own clothing.
Her father educated her in the realm of architecture from an early age. His ardent attention was intoxicating and she basked in his praise when she showed her aptitude and interest. Her younger brothers were often berated for being lazy, incompetent, or worse.
Woodie celebrated the naked body and was frequently nude at home. If he answered the door, whatever magazine he was reading provided cover. Bathroom doors were not allowed to be closed. The children were called on to tickle his back, a feeling he greatly enjoyed for extended periods of time. Throughout Elizabeth’s teens, he reciprocated, touching both sides of her body, claiming it was OK since he avoided the sensitive areas.
He was a big man with unpredictable behavior and a violent temper. His mental health deteriorated as his professional fortunes dwindled and his family could no longer tolerate his tyranny and out of control actions.
I have not nearly covered all the heartless and sometimes moving events and interactions that took place. Elizabeth will always have the emotional scars from her life with Woodie, but she has come to terms with the fact that she loves him. At the end, when she briefly describes her life with her first husband and children, it is a tranquil relief to the reader. She evolved into a creative communicator of the human condition with skills to offer a balm through the practice of acupuncture.
I highly recommend this book. It will cause the readers to reflect on their own father and the dynamic between them even absent the abuse. Elizabeth resides in mid-coast Maine.