Carey’s debut is at once an Irish home-reconstruction comedy, a requiem for Fire Island friends, and a treasury of Broadway gossip, all for the love of Mammie.
In the early 1960s, 12-year-old Alice and her mother sail to Ireland to visit relatives in County Kerry. There they find Mammie’s brother Bob, a pedophile priest; cow-milking cousin DD; bog fires, excellent tea, and good whiskey. They continue on to Father Bob's meager Liverpool parish and to London, the trip’s highlight. Forty years later, Carey and her husband sell their beloved Fire Island home off Long Island and buy a “ruin” near Bantry Bay, County Cork. The main narrative covers the repair of this pre-Famine building: architect, laborers, and neighbors appear on an unpredictable schedule; New York friends visit and travel to such local sights as the Skellig Rocks. Between commutes to Ireland, Carey remembers her Catholic childhood in Queens, maintaining the present-tense narrative that gives all of her memoir such immediacy. Keeping her pugnacious father in the background (and never calling him “Dad,” always Carey), she recalls struggling in school and sneaking into weddings with her mother. When Mammie is hired as housekeeper to Broadway producer Jean Dalrymple and, later, Jed Harris, life changes dramatically. Big Alice brings in Little Alice to help after school. They love the Manhattan good life: wonderful clothes, Christmas cards from Cartier, piles of sweets from East Side bakeries, all the showbiz gossip from Homer Poupart, Dalrymple's gay assistant. Carey's affection for Homer later leads to her summering in Cherry Grove, Fire Island's gayest community. Harris, a heart of gold behind the ruthless facade, provides Alice with front row seats for Peter Pan, and helps her switch to a first-rate high school, where she does well. The sentimental subtitle belies a powerful, earthy, affectionate story whose disparate sections are knit together by Carey’s skillful characterizations, authentic dialogue, and witty observations.
A tour de force.