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The Bill from My Father: A Memoir

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  594 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
Edward Cooper is a hard man to know.Dour and exuberant by turns, his moods dictate the always uncertain climate of the Cooper household. Balding, octogenarian, and partial to a polyester jumpsuit, Edward Cooper makes an unlikely literary muse. But to his son he looms larger than life, an overwhelming and baffling presence.

Edward's ambivalent regard for his son is the spr
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 2006)
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Rating details
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Jul 25, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Cooper is an unsympathetic narrator. And he makes his father that way as well. I found the book beautifully written, lyrical in places, especially at the beginning, but hollow. I got bored with it because it wasn't so much about the story as it was about the teller of the story. In the end I found myself wondering if in his afterlife Ed sees himself as Lazarus, the headless chicken: just another dog and pony show. I found his characters to be stock, stereotypical (yes, yes, I know stereotypes ex ...more
Sarah B.
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: given-away
The fascinating (and frustrating) part of this difficult father-son relationship is that the author didn't actually wonder what his own childhood cost his father, except in the most self-reflective way. When Cooper receives the bill, he only looks at how it relates to himself, as in, Wow, did I cost that much? And shouldn't my father have been happy to pay for my childhood? Cooper spends the entire book looking for approval from his eccentric father, which makes it impossible for the reader to u ...more
K.K. Wootton
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
What a writer. Wow. Exquisite all over the place. My one criticism of the novel is that the author seems to lack awareness of how terrible his father was. It's understandable - and probably common - for the child of a man so psychologically abusive to be plagued with (unmerited) guilt and to seek love and approval from that parent. But what is less understandable is that the author never seems to come to an understanding of just how abusive his parent was. Granted, his father had charm, ferocity ...more
Dec 28, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Check out the cover. Claustrophobic memoir of the dysfunctional relationship between the author and his eccentric, stubborn father, who at one point sends his son a bill in the mail accounting for the cost of his upbringing. It's not a happy book.
R.A. Schneider
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I'm writing a memoir about a complicated father. Well, mine actually. Spoilers below.

My writing was compared to Cooper's at a recent writing workshop I attended, and I had to admit I did not know who he was. Given his level of success, I thought it in my best interest to read and compare for myself.

The book's narrative skeleton chronicles over 15 years of the author's father descending into dementia and ultimately death. Cooper fleshes out this difficult relationship with his father, including
May 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Another memoir about a parent so awful and difficult that it has to be completely true. What surprised me was how willing the author was to believe his father would behave in a normal manner and tell the truth. His repeated bad experiences should have told him not to trust him, but he continues to come back for more punishment. Edward Cooper (the father) was a liar as well as a misogynist, but there had to be some sympathy for a man who lost 3 of his four sons. The mother wasn't very understanda ...more
May 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Edward Cooper, a divorce lawyer who lived in LA never felt comfortable in his own skin. He was always prickly to his sons, unfaithful to his wife, and turned everyone who contacted him with a grievance into an enemy. Bernard Cooper, his son tries to add flesh to the bones of this memoir. Edward faced the deaths of his wife and three sons before he succombed. He wore a jumpsuit every day after retirement, to keep things simple. Mose unbelievably, Edward sent Bernard a bill for what it cost to rai ...more
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2013
I wanted to like this book, perhaps being endorsed by David Sedaris raised my expectations too much. The writing was beautiful but the story was grasping especially toward the end.
Cooper's relationship with his father seemed hardly something to write an entire book about. Dysfunctional families are a dime a dozen, successful stories find humor or some poignant realization in the stories that make anyone who didn't experience them cringe. Cooper's story is neither funny nor poignant.
Were it not
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
While this book was beautifully written, I became direly impatient with the subject, the father. The on and on butting of heads type of relationship between the author and his father, became so tiring, I couldn't continue and just skipped to the back of the book to see how it ended. I have never done that before. Yet, the writing style of Bernard Cooper was just wonderful. I think it was just the subject matter in this book that I found irritating, and therefore, I would attempt to read another ...more
Oct 20, 2016 rated it liked it
The writing deserves four stars but the content is challenging in this memoir of a maligned and manipulated son of a narcissistic lawyer whose erratic behaviour leaves a trail of victims throughout his family. He lost three sons, but somehow never seemed to learn how to love the one who remained, constantly seeking his approval. I could not understand the depth of guilt the author seemed to feel while doing his best to please and help an unpleasable, unassistable man.
Hollye Dexter
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the best memoirs I've read in a very long time. Cooper is clear-eyed, completely unsentimental, funny, clever in the way he approaches this story. He captures precisely the very awkward and confusing love between a father and son. Loved it!
Anara Guard
Dec 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I wasn't sure at first whether I would stick with this memoir, as the tale of an irascible, shouting, aged father struck a little too close to home ["each of them implied that my father was irascible while at the same time commending in him a certain charm they had a hard time putting their fingers on". But I'm glad I did. Well written and containing humor as well as pathos, there are some remarkable turns of phrase and descriptions, such as this one in which he has driven up to a curb where his ...more
MB Shakespeare
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fave quote: "Is this what people are to each other, a flurry of demands that can't be met, hurts for which there is no restitution?"
Michael David
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
On making peace with the enduring mystery of those whom we desire to know the deepest.
John LaPine
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
a queer author discusses his obstinate and hilarious Jewish father's final years on Earth. lovely, easy read about the difficulty of familial love
Oct 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating, mesmerizing, heartbreakingly poignant book. And every word of it is allegedly true.

The author apparently many, many, many years ago wrote an essay about infidelity for an unnamed swanky magazine. Of the many stories related in the essay, one of them concerned Bernard's father who had been busted for his infidelities because of (and I am not making this up) a lipstick stain near the front flap of a dirty pair of boxer shorts. The story never says if Bernard's mother called
Luanne Castle
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
The title, The Bill from My Father, serves as a reminder throughout the book that there is a reason Cooper keeps his father at arm’s length most of the time–sometimes even farther, such as when he let a period of several years ago by without communication. The title refers to the father sending his son a bill for the cost of bringing him up. The father is a “character,” in the sense my mother means–somebody I would call a “piece of work.” His son tries to make sense of the man and of his own fee ...more
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was chosen for this month's read by our men's reading group. It will be interesting to see what kind of discussion comes out if it. One friend who recently finished it described it as a train-wreck from start to finish and, in a sense, that's not a bad summation of the relationship between father and son.
The author is startlingly frank about his relationship with his male partner - perhaps more so that one might expect of someone speaking of their marital relationship with their wife,
Kate Runy
Oct 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book the week before David Sedaris announced it would be the recommended book he promoted during his tour. It made me feel quite proud of my literary taste. I ended up reading this is one day because it was beautifully written and compelling. You may not like the narrator or the father because they are realistic people: incredibly complicated and neither entirely good or entirely bad. I appreciated the narrator's honesty in his confusing feelings towards his father. Most of the ...more
Patrick O'Neil
Jul 18, 2008 rated it liked it
I want to begin by first mentioning Bernard’s use of language. I find his prose, his structural choices, and his story telling abilities to be very palatable. I ingest his writing easily – as if with a spoon. Unlike some other writers whose tough and over complex syntax requires the brawn of a fork, piercing and prodding their words, before attempting to stuff it into my brain. I admire those that write as smoothly as Bernard. He is painstaking in his writing – he once told me there are days he ...more
Lee Kofman
Jan 11, 2015 rated it liked it
I’d previously read Cooper’s essays and was a little disappointed that the memoir didn’t stand to their very high standard. Those essays were so powerful, their every word was in place. The memoir, albeit shortish (240 pages), felt at times a little overwritten. And yet the father’s character was gripping. He overshadowed the somewhat-masochistic narrator by a lot and remained an exciting enigma till the very end. Cooper is mostly a very elegant writer, funny, and often delivers wisdom through q ...more
Feb 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Nonfiction's not my usual genre, so maybe when I say I felt trapped inside Cooper's head, it's because I'm unaccustomed to the intimate self-reflection that can accompany memoirs. All the same: I felt trapped inside Cooper's head. Moreover, the content of The Bill from My Father was not really that interesting. You get the impression that the main reason Cooper even wrote it was because his editor told him to--and to his credit, he discloses this motivation right off the bat.

Like many reviewers
Apr 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
Really brilliant/vivid writing, like comparing sleeping pills to being hit over the head with a velvet sledgehammer. It's this kind of writing that made me think I'm not quite ready to be a writer myself. He's just so detailed and original. Is this review boring? David Sedaris recommended this book on his recent book tour, and I don't trust anyone's recs like I do David Sedaris'. He has impeccable reading tastes. Weirdly, I didn't think this one was up to snuff, which surprised me enormously. Es ...more
Aug 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I couldn't quite get into this book the first time I picked it up, but the second time was a charm. Bernard Cooper's father was an interesting, but distant man, a lawyer who believed he was always right and who was not above filing lawsuits against family members. One day Bernard receives a bill from his father for his upbringing, but is never asked to pay it. Throughout his life Bernard tries to connect with his father, but never fully feels like he got to know him. I have a feeling that Bernar ...more
Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies
Good read. not a great one. I liked it. Reminded me of a very watery version of something david Sedaris would write minus the drug and sex references. so it wasn't a funny read but definitely a good character study on the author's father. he can write for sure but some times you know, when you're reading about a situation and you can tell that the scene is about to end because the author or the editor has edited to where they take out the boring parts.. well this book had missed that tactic of e ...more
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Bernard Cooper has that rare talent of being funny and sad at the same time. This memoir focuses on his father, an extremely difficult man but one who has also suffered a great deal of loss in his life. So even though he's really annoying, the reader winds up teary eyed over him nevertheless. All with no sentimentality.
I would chop off my little finger, throw it in a potion and drink it if it would give me Cooper's writing ability. This is a tremendous talent. Before you die, read something by t
May 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
In a sincere, humorous, yet deeply compassionate memoir, Cooper limns the complex relationship that all fathers and sons know too well. Without glossing over the inevitable conflicts, he offers a well-rounded portrait of his admittedly irascible and puzzling father, suggesting but never sentimentalizing the pain that lies at the core of their relationship. Cooper's eye for the telling detail has never been sharper, his courage as a memoirist never clearer. Essential reading for anyone who's ever ...more
Feb 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was recently reviewed on NPR--a memoir by a man whose father billed him for the cost of his upbringing (2 million dollars). Please be warned that the section of the book dealing with this incident is at most 2 pages. However, everything else is extremely interesting, funny without being cruel, emotional without revealing too much*. It's great.
*With the exception of his relationship with his life partner. Please avoid this book if you're uncomfortable with men admiring and touching each othe
Rita Robinson
Dec 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Thoughtfully written memoir with honest introspection about a father who looms larger than life, and who continually perplexes his son, the author. A rascal to the end, the father, a noted California divorce attorney who repeatedly cheats on his wife, the author's mother, and who loses three other adult sons to untimely deaths, remains an enigma, brought to life by his remaining son in a tangled and thought-provoking story.
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
As someone whose relationship with my father could most kindly be described as difficult, I identified with Bernard Cooper's memoir of his father. I started the novel hoping for the sharp and dismissive family humor I so enjoy in the work of David Sedaris, but found this book to be more forlorn and unsatisfying. There's no belly laugh, no neat endings here. That's not to say it's not worth the read, it was just darker and more unhappy than I had expected.
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Bernard Cooper has won numerous awards and prizes, among them the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, an O. Henry Prize, and literature fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and The National Endowment of the Arts.

He has published two memoirs, Maps to Anywhere and Truth Serum, as well as a novel, A Year of Rhymes, and a collection of short stories, Guess Again.

His work has appeared in Harper's Magazi
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“For me, the words 'Anything is possible' haven't served as a bolstering of hope as much as a warning to run for cover” 4 likes
“Look, if the reason you two aren't speaking doesn't make sense, then the reason you contact him again doesn't have to make sense, either. If nothing makes sense, act accordingly.” 3 likes
More quotes…