A Studs Terkel-like approach--brief, topically organized excerpts from many interviews--on the experience of losing a parent...


A MUSIC I NO LONGER HEARD: The Early Death of a Parent

A Studs Terkel-like approach--brief, topically organized excerpts from many interviews--on the experience of losing a parent as a child or adolescent. Simon (Women's Studies/City College of San Francisco) and Drantell (a San Francisco-based writer and book editor) are best here in an introductory chapter and ""coda"" that relate reactions to their own childhood and adolescent losses (Simon, a father at age 17; Drantell, a mother at age 11) and emotional journeys in compiling the material for this book. Their 70 interviewees cover an impressive cross-cultural and inter-generational range, and yield some fascinating insights about how not only the subjects, but also the surviving parent, siblings, other relatives, peers, and neighbors, reacted to such a cataclysmic loss. For example, a 61-year-old man who lost his mother and father two years apart in the early 1950s recalls, ""There was no discussion of grieving. . . . I was just a working-class kid. We didn't talk, we stuffed it in."" Conversely, other interviewees, particularly those who came of age after about 1965, feel that the experience of early parental loss could be talked about, and also that it matured and deepened them emotionally; as one woman in her 30s put it, her father's death when she was 11 ""made me more open to life, made me want to take it on more fully. Because you touch something that's in the marrow. You cut through a lot of superficiality and are more sensitive to things."" In general, however, the panoramic approach that Terkel applied to sweeping historical events such as the Depression and WW II doesn't work as well for an experience as highly personal as a parent's death. Here, the reader needs to be introduced to both the deceased parent and the interviewee in greater depth than the several short excerpts from a far longer interview provided here. (The reader also learns only about the interviewees' first name, current age, and age when they lost a parent; inexplicably, only those who are writers or otherwise artists are identified by their profession or vocation.) In addition, the authors see fit to provide brief general comments as an introduction to each topical subsection; unfortunately, their words are rarely illuminating and at times hackneyed (e.g., ""As grown-up orphans, if we know one thing, we know death is inevitable. At different times in our lives, we experience the inevitability differently""). Largely because of its methodology, Simon and Drantell's mosaic oral history ultimately lacks sufficient reflective or imaginative depth and emotional force. However, it should prove comforting and perhaps helpful to those who have lost, or are about to lose, a parent in childhood or adolescence, as well as to their immediate relatives.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 1451613644

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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