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March 08, 1992|CHARLES SOLOMON

TREETOPS: A Family Memoir by Susan Cheever (Bantam: $11, illustrated). The daughter of author John Cheever, Susan Cheever offers her sardonic recollections of a singularly odd clan in which "attitudes toward women are complicated and confusing--and the women tend to be complicated and confused." Treetops, the New Hampshire mountain retreat built by her great-grandfather, Thomas Watson, the co-inventor of the telephone, became the symbolic seat of family power. After Watson's death in 1934, an assortment of petty despots presided over Treetops: Milton Charles Winternitz, who elevated the Yale Medical School to the rank of world-class institution; the snobbish WASP children of his extremely social second wife, the former Pauline Webster Whitney, and the author's moody, alcoholic father. The inevitable clashes among so many powerful egos made for an exceedingly stressful upbringing, and Cheever describes the family battleground with raw honesty: "Family members each play a role so inalterable that they sometimes seem to be reading from a script. In the world outside the family, they have the freedom to change and establish who they are through actions. . . . No matter what their successes, members of the family will forever see them reliving the failures of their youth."

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