“Anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his life.”
If one were to judge writer Jeannette Walls by that quote, they would be able to say that she has enough stories for a lifetime of writing. Her 2006 memoir, The Glass Castle, is the story of her deeply unconventional and sometimes troubling childhood. Her father deeply loved his children. When he was sober, Rex Walls was dedicated to expanding the education of his offspring beyond the classroom and encouraging them to life live to the fullest. But he also had a penchant for drinking too much, often becoming destructive and abusive. Her mother, Rose Mary, was artistic and free-thinking. She was also not exactly the most maternal of mothers, forcing Jeannette and her siblings to basically raise themselves.
One by one, each of the Walls kids eventually made their way to New York City. Though Rex and Rose Mary followed their youngsters to the Big Apple, they continued in their chosen way of life and became homeless. Choosing a more conventional way of living, the second generation of the Walls family thrived.
It would have been easy for Walls to either be extremely judgemental of her parents or spend years in therapy due to a childhood that had the potential to be psychologically damaging. But she chooses to present them on the page as she knew them and let the reader decide how they feel.
I admire the author for having chutzpah. Pulling herself up by her bootstraps, she did what had to do, which included getting away if she wanted a better life in adulthood than she had in her younger years. My problem is that the book was not as compelling as I thought it would be.
One of the quotes about writing that is floating around the internet is as follows:
Anyone who survives childhood has enough material to write for the rest of her life- Flannery O’Connor
In Bensonhurst, Brooklyn circa 1978, 15 year old Samantha Conti wants to be a writer. According to Ms. O’Connor, Samantha will have plenty of ideas to choose from.
Suzanne Corso’s 2011 novel, Brooklyn Story, is a coming of age tale told from Samantha’s point of view several years after the events in the book have taken place.
Her home life is dysfunctional with a capital D. Samantha’s father, a man of Sicilian origins, divorced his wife and abandoned his family years ago. Samantha has not seen her father since she was a little girl. Her mother, born into a Jewish family, converted to Catholicism at the start of her brief marriage. Samantha’s mother lives off welfare and has health issues stemming from substance abuse. Thankfully, Samantha does have positive adult role models in her life. Her grandmother lives with them and is helping to raise her granddaughter, she has also the family priest and her favorite teacher providing the emotional support that is not coming from her mother.
Samantha’s best friend, Janice who is three years older than her, introduces her to Tony. Tony is slightly older than Samantha. He is charming, attractive and attentive. He also has a temper and is a bit on the possessive side. Still, Samantha starts to see Tony. But the relationship will become questionable and Samantha will soon have to choose between her dreams of becoming a writer in Manhattan or staying in Brooklyn with Tony.
I initially picked up this book because I am very familiar with the part of Brooklyn that Ms. Corso uses as a backdrop. What I read was a young woman’s coming of age story that felt very real. The reader does not have to know Brooklyn or have lived during the late 1970’s to appreciate and understand Samantha’s journey. While the thirty something woman that I am wanted to warn Samantha that Tony was bad news, the former teenager in me understood Samantha’s interest in him.
This book is nothing short of amazing and I highly recommend it.