Filthy Beasts: A Memoir

Filthy Beasts: A Memoir

by Kirkland Hamill

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Overview

Running with Scissors meets Grey Gardens in this gripping, true riches-to-rags tale of a wealthy family who lost it all and the unforgettable journey of a man coming to terms with his family’s deep flaws and his own long-buried truths.

“Wake up, you filthy beasts!” Wendy Hamill would shout to her children in the mornings before school. Startled from their dreams, Kirk and his two brothers couldn’t help but wonder—would they find enough food in the house for breakfast?

Following a rancorous split from New York’s upper-class society, newly divorced Wendy and her three sons are exiled from the East Coast elite circle. Wendy’s middle son, Kirk, is eight when she moves the family to her native Bermuda, leaving the three young boys to fend for themselves as she chases after the highs of her old life: alcohol, a wealthy new suitor, and other indulgences.

After eventually leaving his mother’s dysfunctional orbit for college in New Orleans, Kirk begins to realize how different his family and upbringing is from that of his friends and peers. Split between extreme privilege—early years living in luxury on his family’s private compound—and bare survival—rationing food and water during the height of his mother’s alcoholism—Kirk is used to keeping up appearances and burying his inconvenient truths from the world, until he’s eighteen and falls in love for the first time.

A fascinating window into the life of extreme privilege and a powerful story of self-acceptance, Filthy Beasts recounts Kirk’s unforgettable journey through luxury hotels and charity stores, private enclaves and public shame as he confronts his family’s many imperfections, accepts his unconventional childhood, and finally comes to terms with his own hidden secrets.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

06/29/2020

Hamill, a former nonprofit development chief, debuts with this sharp, thoughtful account of his formerly wealthy family’s fall and his own coming-of-age. Hamill spent his first six years living a life of privilege at the family compound in 1970s Long Island, watching his parents luxuriate in WASP pastimes of yachting, cocktails, and socializing. But when his grandparents died, they left the clan surprisingly destitute due to “lavish spending and poor investment decisions.” The family moved to an upstate farm where everything fell apart: Hamill’s parents divorced, and his mom, a beautiful force of nature, took Hamill and his two brothers to her native Bermuda where she despaired of her lost, moneyed life and began drinking. Hamill, meanwhile, didn’t fit in on the island and began to question his sexuality. Much of the story has a train wreck quality as Hamill details his mother’s drinking, and their tense and antagonistic relationship. It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that Hamill accepted his homosexuality and told his disbelieving mother: “A mother like you should have a gay son.... My God, a mother like you makes a gay son.” In smooth prose, Hamill’s narrative moves gracefully without ever being precious. Fans of difficult family memoirs will want to take a look. (July)

From the Publisher

Hamill’s tragicomic memoir [is] about survival—and recovery: of his identity, memories and compassion for his mother . . . . Wendy deserves placement in the gay canon, somewhere between Endora on ‘Bewitched’ and Jessica Lange in anything directed by Ryan Murphy.” —Jason Sheeler, New York Times Book Review

"A vivid and compelling portrait of a dysfunctional family . . . Hamill is a gifted storyteller, crafting scenes and dialogue that read like a riveting novel. . . . The author absorbingly narrates a complicated story fraught with betrayal, abandonment, and grief, and he shows us—via his own recovery—that beauty, pain, and love can all coexist in the same space. . . . A stunning, deeply satisfying story about how we outlive our upbringings." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Hamill spins a tale you’d want to listen to while sprawled out on a summer lawn . . . Filthy Beasts is an irresistibly voiced coming of age story that journeys into the ways in which we save the people we love, the stains and legacies of the societal orbits we belong to, and how at last we find ourselves.” Ralph Lauren Magazine

“A vivid tragicomedy.” People

"Written with brutal and complex honesty, Hamill navigates the painful yet powerful path towards self-acceptance and love in a story that is, at its core, one of survival." —Moda Operandi

“An astonishing memoir . . . Readers will appreciate his dry wit and compassionate lens while admiring the survival instincts that led Hamill to proudly assert himself as a gay man deserving of romantic love . . . . A gifted storyteller shares the humor and pathos of growing up in a dysfunctional family where the adults relate better to children once they've reached drinking age.” —Shelf Awareness

“Hamill’s honesty in questioning past choices and their consequences as well as his slow realization that he’s gay will emotionally engage readers, as telling unvarnished truths about his family, he provides a unique look into a world unknown to most of us. . . . [for] fans of Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur and A Forever Family by Rob Sheer.” —Booklist

“Sharp [and] thoughtful . . . In smooth prose, Hamill’s narrative moves gracefully without ever being precious. Fans of difficult family memoirs will want to take a look.” Publishers Weekly

“Shades of Grey Gardens.New York Post, "Best of Summer Books for 2020"

“There are few coming-of-age stories with so many highs and lows as Hamill’s, and he makes such a roller-coaster irresistible reading. Filthy Beasts reminds us how hard it is to let go of your family, especially your mother, no matter how they betray or disappoint us." —Amy Sutherland

"Kirkland Hamill’s memoir is brilliantly, sharply and unsettlingly new. Reading Filthy Beasts reminded me of inhaling Sedaris for the first time—that humor, that voice—only the work is tenderer and friendlier, an invitation not just to laugh and marvel but to truly understand." —Beth Macy

"A complex and unflinching account of a family's undoing told with style and a mordant humor that will keep you reading until the final page. I closed the book not in awe of Hamill's talent (although I am), but rather of the mere fact that he survived." —Steven Rowley

“A keen observer . . . Hamill writes of his own experiences, along with those of his friends and family in an entertaining way, yet there is also an acute understanding of the difficulties people face in their daily lives. An engrossing family memoir to be read and enjoyed by those facing any number of life’s challenges.” —Library Journal

Library Journal

05/01/2020

Writer Hamill is a keen observer of his particular family situation. His father's family wealth declined greatly after the death of an older relative, and his parents and several siblings had to cope with new and reduced circumstances. Divorce, family separation, and alcoholism are the circumstances Mr. Hamill and his brothers face as they relocate with their mother, back to her birthplace in Bermuda. Hamill finds himself caring for a mother drowning her sorrows through alcohol. Their relationship is an especially close one. Hamill deftly tells the story of his family, and his youth, with great love and a perceptive nature. Yet he spares no one, and as he narrates his teenage years and his college adventures, he relates coming to terms with his own sexuality and what it means for himself and his family. Hamill writes of his own experiences, along with those of his friends and family in an entertaining way, yet there is also an acute understanding of the difficulties people face in their daily lives. VERDICT An engrossing family memoir to be read and enjoyed by those facing any number of life's challenges.—Amy Lewontin, Northeastern Univ. Lib., Boston

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-04-26
A vivid and compelling portrait of a dysfunctional family.

For the first eight years of his life, Hamill and his two brothers lived like blue bloods. Their father’s family was “pure white-Anglo-Saxon-protestant, Mayflower-descendant, white-butler rich.” The only life they knew was filled with servants, private clubs, and luxurious New York real estate. But when his family’s “dormant demons were rustled from their slumber” and his parents divorced, the three boys moved to Bermuda with their mother, where she had grown up in a working-class family. The book, Hamill’s debut, is not a typical riches-to-rags reversal, though that’s a prominent theme. Instead, the author explores in visceral detail how children of addicted caregivers struggle to construct meaning, establish their own identities, and simply survive while living in the wake of a family illness. Hamill is a gifted storyteller, crafting scenes and dialogue that read like a riveting novel. There are casualties in this tale, both real and figurative, but there are also many triumphs. In his early 30s, the author embraced his sexuality as a gay man, a reckoning that arguably took a back seat to all the chaos and collateral damage that surrounded him. Though Hamill is unflinchingly honest about the flaws of all of the characters in the story (including himself), by the end, readers will have at least some affection for each one. The author absorbingly narrates a complicated story fraught with betrayal, abandonment, and grief, and he shows us—via his own recovery—that beauty, pain, and love can all coexist in the same space. “I started to see my mother as somebody caught in darkness,” he says, “doing whatever she could to steal glimpses of light, knowing they wouldn’t last for long. I saw how brave that was, and how sad.”

A stunning, deeply satisfying story about how we outlive our upbringings.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982122768
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 07/14/2020
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 123,024
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.30(d)

Customer Reviews