Too Good to Be True: The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY
Moses in Aspen

AS HE GREW older, a source of continuing sorrow for Leslie was his estrangement from his brother, Harold. One day, when Leslie still lived in Missoula, an adolescent who seemed vaguely familiar appeared at his door. The boy, who looked like a typical college student with long hair and guitar, asked if there were any odd jobs he could perform around the place. It wasn't long before the visitor identified himself as Harold's son, Steve. By now, Harold had completely abandoned his Jewish heritage. Not only were he and his wife (who was also of Jewish origin) devout Lutherans, they lived as purebred goys in rural New Hampshire. Steve and his sister, Carol, had both gone to fancy private schools and were completely unaware of their ancestry. Although Leslie and Steve developed an immediate bond, Harold remained adamantly opposed to reconciliation. When Steve died of cancer at age twenty-three, Leslie's most promising link with his brother's family died with him.

If Harold was downright hostile toward Leslie, he was simply distant toward their mother. He would write her dutifully and send her small sums of money, while avoiding more personal contact. “What have we done that he should treat us this way?” Lillian Fiedler would often ask. (It hadn't helped that she had accused Harold of selling his birthright for a mess of pottage.) When she died in 1985, Harold did call Leslie to settle some financial matters, but he made it clear that the conversation would be confined to business. Not too many years before that, Leslie had called him on his birthday, and Harold had simply hung up.

The only member of Leslie's immediate family to see Harold after his letter breaking off contact in the early 1960s was Leslie's son Eric. Because he was hitchhiking from Athens to Jerusalem, Eric passed through Istanbul, where Harold was still serving as American consul. “I am an American citizen, so he can't refuse to see me, ” Eric reasoned. With all diplomatic correctness, Harold invited Eric to the embassy for dinner and played the sound track to a currently fashionable musical comedy. Having drowned out any possible conversation,

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