A baby boomer reflects on her Bronx childhood and coming-of-age in this debut memoir.
Santarelli always had an eye for details. As she and her second husband stood waiting for the train to New York City one cold January morning, she noticed the clothing, demeanor, and style of a woman her age. Her sharp observations had been with her since childhood, which she spent in the Bronx with her older brother, Stephen, and Jewish mother after her father left. Santarelli quickly became an outsider, struggling with school, her mean neighbor Kathy, and a witch of a teacher. Her mother tried to angle her way up the social ladder, befriending Mary the socialite and imparting a love of life’s finer things to her only daughter. Santarelli trudged through school, deciding along the way that she wanted to be a nurse. Her brother suffered, and survived, a harrowing ordeal with a brain aneurysm. After nursing school, she embarked on her nursing career and met her first husband, a pharmacist. They married, had children, and enjoyed upward mobility until financial trouble cast a dark pall over their Tudor home. While they survived that rocky period, a newfound love of cycling introduced her to Nick, and an unexpected chapter of her life began to unfold. While this promises to be a memoir of excess, it’s mostly a memoir of details, with beautiful descriptions of furniture, neighborhoods, and memories. The book’s best drawn character is the author’s mother, “destined to be different even before the divorce.” The 1950s and ’60s are evoked in various cultural markers, from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to “peasant shirts and long Indian print, gauzy skirts.” While the adulthood chapters lack the evocative language used to paint Santarelli’s childhood, the drama alone (a broken engagement, angry creditors, infidelity) can keep the reader engaged. The narrator’s triumphant training as a cyclist makes for a lovely conclusion and happy ending to a story that shares so many struggles. This book should certainly be of interest to readers of the author’s generation.
A witty and thoughtful account that’s a portrait of the mother-daughter bond as much as it is a search for love.