Kirkus Review




Awoman attempts to untangle the web of family truths and lies that shaped her life in this memoir about a 1950s childhood.

Throughout Santarelli’s years of growing up in dreary, low-income apartments in the Bronx, her father, Charles, was a shadowy, almost mythic figure. His identity was gleaned from his handwriting in a handful of letters and “anecdotes and thirty hours of time spent together,” punctuated by her mother Charlotte’s bitter resentment of the man who had rejected her and left her to raise two children on her own. If the years with her mother were characterized by economic scarcity and the stigma of being the child of a “sexy young divorcée,” they were also filled with fun, culture, and a willingness to see life as an adventure. Her father surfaced as a real person only a handful of times that involved restaurant dinners and awkward conversations in which he unsuccessfully tried to impress a daughter raised on stories of his infidelity and general unreliability. As the author and her brother, Stephen, came of age, gradually moving to less shabby apartments as “white flight” emptied the neighborhood of its wealthier inhabitants, his anger at Charles solidified. In contrast, Santarelli worked to assemble an understanding of herself beyond the “collection of half-truths and fanciful stories” that formed her early awareness. She committed herself to uncovering even uncomfortable truths about her father and mother. The author’s introspective narrative is poignant and textured with both the enduring effects of childhood pain and the particular historical position of a nontraditional family in the ’50s. Small details, such as dinners of canned Chef Boyardee’s cheese ravioli and the Simon and Garfunkel hit “Sound of Silence,” ground the story in a pivotal moment of cultural change. In addition, Santarelli’s analysis of her “twin legacies of anger and hope” is discerning and eloquent. A few observations jar, as when a visit to the segregated South left the author feeling as if she was “an eyewitness to history,” a bland description that seems insufficient to the occasion. But overall, the insightful work is a nuanced examination of complex family dynamics in mid-20th-century America.A perceptive account of a woman’s lifelong compulsion to decipher her family history.

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