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From the moment he was born, Griffin Dunne was surrounded by people who told good stories, some of which had the virtue of being true.

The storytellers included his father, Dominick (Nick) Dunne, a television and movie producer; mother Ellen (Lenny) Griffin; aunt Joan Didion, a pioneer of the "New Journalism," uncle, screenwriter, novelist and critic John Gregory Dunne; as well as scores of celebrities who attended the parties hosted by these two "it" couples.

In "The Friday Afternoon Club," Dunne supplies anecdotes about A- and B-list entertainers, his mostly misspent youth, gigs as an usher in Radio City Music Hall and as an actor and producer, and Carrie Fisher, the soulmate with whom he shared an apartment in Manhattan while she was filming "Star Wars."

At bottom, however, the memoir is a biography of Griffin's extraordinary and ordinary family, as they struggled with sexual incompatibility, substance abuse, divorce, career setbacks, financial problems, sibling rivalries, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, the murder of Griffin's 22-year-old sister Dominique, shortly after her breakthrough role in the horror movie "Poltergeist," and the trial of the boyfriend who strangled her.

By turns quirky, candid, passionate, heart-rending and inspiring, "The Friday Club" is a splendidly told tale of the tragicomedy we call life.

Decades after the murder trial, Dunne remains furious at the tactics of defense attorney Mike Adelson. And at Judge Katz, who excluded testimony about the defendant's history of violence against women because it might prejudice the jury, only to declare after the verdict was rendered that the murder had been committed with malice and the sentence for voluntary manslaughter was "anemic and pathetically inadequate." Katz was subsequently demoted to a lower court.

Although 80% of couples divorce after losing a child, Dunne indicates that his parents seemed to fall back in love. Once annoyed at Dominick's penchant for name-dropping and dark humor, Lenny now enjoyed her former husband's reprise of a story about the night David Selznick had a heart attack during a dinner party and said, as he was wheeled out on a stretcher, "Thanks for coming. Hope you had a lovely evening."

Ironically, the tragedy helped Dominick launch a second career. In March 1984, Vanity Fair magazine published his essay, "Justice: A Father's Account of the Trial of His Daughter's Killer." Dominick became a regular Vanity Fair contributor, the author of bestselling novels and host of a TV series featuring real-life cases of crime involving wealthy and well-connected people, covering the trials of O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bülow and the Menendez brothers.

Griffin's parents didn't forgive John Dunne and Didion for sitting out the murder trial. Estranged for many years, the Dunne brothers reconciled after each of them had a heart attack and they met, by chance, at the office of the cardiologist they did not know they shared.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Griffin ends the narrative of his own life in 1990. Despite critical success as producer and star of the film "After Hours," Dunne's self-destructive instincts kicked in and his career floundered. But after having a child with Carey Lowell, his wife and co-star on disastrous film "Me and Him," Griffin became a father.

"Oh, Dominique," he whispered, "look what I have. Isn't she beautiful?"

Glenn C. Altschuler is an emeritus professor of American Studies at Cornell University.

The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir

By: Griffin Dunne.

Publisher: Penguin, 400 pages, $30.