Hirsch (Mothers, not reviwed; Songs from the Alley, 1989) reflects with unrestrained satisfaction on her experiences of...



Hirsch (Mothers, not reviwed; Songs from the Alley, 1989) reflects with unrestrained satisfaction on her experiences of urban community renewal in Jamaica Plain (J.P.), Boston. In 1990, the author left her fast-paced, cappuccino-filled life in Boston's Back Bay, in search of a rooted neighborhood, which she found in J.P. A once solidly white, working-class section of Boston, J.P. had fallen on hard times; but a new population of artists, social activists, and entrepreneurs began to revive the community in the mid-1980s, with the support of then recently elected Mayor Ray Flynn. Hirsch reports on a spectrum of community initiatives--such as reclaiming Jamaica Pond from the waste that had overridden it, halting a disruptive highway project, mounting a yearly spring festival--which she sets against the backdrop of older residents' memories of former days, both good and bad. Her thesis is that J.P. models the best of 1950s community solidarity--hard work, neighborly care, and commitment--broadened by a 1990s tolerance and progressiveness that accepts single mothers, gay couples, and Spanish-speakers. Hirsch fervently believes in the values of simplicity, home, and urban rootedness she has found. But that they do not yet come quite naturally to her shows in the smugness of tone that mars the book, the precious prose style, and occasional lapses into the cappuccino-based worldview: why, in the catalog of participants at one of the many community events she celebrates, should the sanitation workers (and not, say, the clergy?) be singled out as particularly ""humble""? And for whom is she speaking when she claims that ""we"" do not esteem our professional colleagues who work in poorer neighborhoods, if not her own former, not wholly yet outgrown, status-seeking self? A worthwhile story of urban renewal that needs to exhibit, in its telling, some awareness that it isn't unique and more of the unassuming naturalness it admires.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998


Page Count: 256

Publisher: "North Point/Farrar, Straus & Giroux"

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998

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