Books: "The Passion of Alec Baldwin"
The blustering actor's memoir of divorce is really a love letter to his daughter. By Caitlin Flanagan
Divorce, as Theodor Adorno observed, “even between good-natured, amiable, educated people, is apt to stir up a dust-cloud that covers and discolours all it touches. It is as if the sphere of intimacy, the unwatchful trust of shared life, is transformed into a malignant poison as soon as the relationship in which it flourished is broken off.”
The impact of impassioned, antagonistic divorce (of divorce itself, in truth) on the romance within each family—all the delicate, furious, persistent mutabilities, dependencies, enamorments, and rejections—is so large and extreme, and yet so specific to each family, that it is difficult to conceive of a way to begin mapping it, let alone imagine that map drawn. Still, considerable pieces of the territory that are familiar to manyand can be delineated, and it andthe dark heart of these formsthe backdrop of Alec Baldwin’s odd, imperfect, poignant, and self-serving book. One of the main themes of his narrative, what he sees as the dominant malignant force in his tortured experience of fatherhood after divorce, is what he calls Parental Alienation Syndrome. This phenomenon—first named by Richard Gardner, a child psychiatrist, to describe domestic situations in the aftermath of a heated divorce in which the custodial parent (usually the mother) has successfully turned the child or children against the noncustodial “target parent”—is debated both medically and legally. Still, one would have to live pretty deep in an Amish wonderland not to have encountered mothers who have tried to turn a child against a former husband. Sometimes the guys get into this game as well, but it is much more of a ladies’ pastime.