A Great Family History That’s More Fiction than Truth

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THE NEARLY LEGENDARY MORRIS SISTERS
A True Family Fiction Story
by Julie Klam

Your favorite family stories, I hate to tell you, are almost certainly at least slightly wrong. I’m not calling anyone a liar, that’s just how it is – stories get distorted (or evolve, depending on your perspective), details are lost, tweaked, censored, censored. I don’t want to disappoint you; I say this in a spirit of encouragement. The story really continues only when it begins to unravel.

In “The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters,” Julie Klam breaks apart and examines her grandmother’s lifelong story about the four sisters who were first cousins ​​and bore her name. Everyone in Klam’s family is obsessed with them, and understandably—they were colorful, charming women born at the turn of the 20th century, living together for most of their very long lives, no children, no husbands (only one sister got married and then briefly) and extraordinarily wealthy. a St. Louis orphanage (story continues) – their father George left them after their mother died in childbirth – until the eldest, Marcella, saved enough money to get them out and to New York City, where she became the first Jewish woman trader in the stock market, amassed a fortune and Where he had an affair with JP Morgan.

Klam is the author of several previous memoirs.You Loved Me on Woof”, which tells us 90 percent of the above is not true. This is in no way a spoiler: The strength of this book is Klam’s relentless effort to uncover, verify and contextualize every fact and aspect of the lives of the Morris brothers, from the Romanian village where the three of them were born, to what really happened. to their mother’s claim that the youngest Ruth is the actual author of a popular 1940s musical. “The Nearly Legendary Morris Sisters” is a largely research-based book, but what takes it beyond a glorified fact-checking mission is Klam’s palpable longing—he wants to know who these women are, what they’ve been through, how it shaped them. . It is biography as an expression of love.

Like any love object worth writing about, the sisters are hard to understand – the most relevant census documents are not yet publicly available, and “Morris” is a hopelessly common surname – so Klam is forced to network so widely. goes to Louis; going to Romania; searches libraries, museums, historical associations, archives (the book is sometimes read as a kind of frenzied hymn for local record keeping); hires a lawyer; hires a research assistant; visits a psychic. It’s easy and fun to follow Klam wherever he goes. With a light touch, unpretentious, smug, witty; He’s an obsessive guy that’s fun to listen to.

There is an awkwardness and cheap pathos that I can do without, and jokes can be weakened, but these are minor sins; You roll your eyes and continue reading. Klam’s tendency to succumb to a kind of speculative sentimentality—guessing, for example, what kind of father George Morris is by looking at photos of his children—is less forgivable. I understand the impulse: Klam is trying to relate to his relatives, to humanize them, but we’re only here to cut out the fictional parts of the story, not add your own; he actually againmythologizes them. Similarly, consulting a psychic, however interesting it may be, is certainly not a way to decipher historical facts.

Still, the overall effect is nice. As rumors and myths are trimmed and gaps are filled, the Morris brothers emerge and differentiate themselves, and Klam is lively there to meet them.

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