In this memoir, Burgoon (It All Counts on Twenty, 2014) recalls living in many different homes during his early years.
The author tracks his family's struggle to achieve the American Dream, starting with his ancestors'immigration to the United States from France in the 18th century, and ending at the start of World War II. Burgoon grew up during the Great Depression, which made success a hard aim to achieve. As his family quietly struggled, he was passed between relatives, or left to fend for himself. Much of the book recounts the fiercely independent boy's adventures poking around the melting-pot districts of western Pennsylvania where he grew up. Instead of focusing on one particular theme—the Depression, for example, or the lessons that shaped him—Burgoon instead takes readers on a journey through his childhood as he chronologically experienced it. Unexpected anecdotes, such as a story of a premature baby successfully incubated in an oven, or of poverty-stricken students passing out from hunger in the middle of a lesson, keep things lively. However, the book lags between such dramatic moments; for every shocking sentence about an uncle's prison experiences, for example, there's a longer one about finding a golf ball. Overall, the things that excite the narrator most are money and girls, and everything else is given lesser treatment. However, he tells his story with an adult voice that's kind and conversational, but still holds the innocence of youth. Politics have no place in the narrative, and although his family is often destitute, the author, as narrator, often seems childishly unconcerned. This is a strength of the book, as it's able to capture the feeling of earning a few cents, for example, with an excitement that many adults would struggle to recreate. But just as often, the memoir glosses over important moments with little analysis; for example, the fact that the author's father was an abusive, "nasty drunk" is quickly ignored.
A sometimes frustrating memoir, but one endowed with personality.
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