However lyrically written, Nekola's memoir of a St. Louis girlhood in the 50's offers a pitiless assessment of the hard- working, emotionally austere family that produced her. Nekola (Schweitzer Fellow/William Paterson College) was raised in an extended family of limited means, modest goals, and unfulfilled ambitions. Among its members were a resourceful grandmother who secretly drew dress designs; maiden aunts seemingly without personal histories; an educated mother who wore white gloves to the butcher shop and died before she could write the children's stories she planned on; a traveling and alcoholic father who left an incomplete, idealized autobiography written for a night-school class; a reclusive brother who dropped out of school and life; and a manic-depressive sister who walked away one day and died homeless and addicted at age 46. Nekola writes powerfully about the small things—clothes, food, family activities, the can opener with a lifetime guarantee that her father bought her, a bicycle excursion, her mother's recipe box, and the happiest minutes of her life, when, in 1960, her family gathered to watch an eclipse of the moon and became their ``original selves,'' ``five moon-gazing animals.'' But her tale is flawed by an objective narration that holds up her life like a jar of homemade jelly to be inspected for clarity and color, by her admitted failure to find in anyone an inner life, and by her attempt to turn her story into a feminist tract, even though there is no power to struggle over. In the world Nekola depicts—as opposed to the judgments she imposes on it—the struggle for men and women alike is one for simple survival, biological and emotional: an unheroic marathon in which adults perform the necessary tasks of domesticity.
Read full book review >