Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

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The Force of Things
384 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
"Love and marriage...go together like a horse and carriage," crooned Frank Sinatra. Occasionally, though, the horse spooks and bolts; the carriage wheels torque off. In The Force of Things, his richly detailed narrative of his parents' long, troubled union, Alexander Stille sifts through voluminous interviews and archives to conjure a couple—and a world—in the throes of change. In 1948 Stille's father, Ugo "Misha" Stille, a journalist who came of age in Fascist Italy, met Elizabeth Bogert, a beautiful and well-bred Midwesterner, at a Manhattan cocktail party for Truman Capote. Misha was brilliant and bombastic, a Jewish refugee from a ravaged continent; Elizabeth was cool and efficient but yearned for a creative life. Their passion for ideas mirrored the intensity of their feelings for each other. From this point of intersection, The Force of Things maps a complex family tree, tracing a lavish cultural history through each branch and twig. Their relationship eventually congealed into a mash of resentments, regrets, and reconciliations. Elizabeth sublimated her personality to her swaggering husband's—as Stille observes, "Ironically, my mother had focused on the thing she was perhaps least good at: love and marriage." The prose here is diamond-cut, evoking the glitter of a turbulent century—a son's homage to the triumphs and disappointments of two flawed, memorable people.
— Hamilton Cain