OH, YOU DUNDALK GIRLS, CAN'T YOU DANCE THE POLKA? by Barbara Wernecke Durkin

OH, YOU DUNDALK GIRLS, CAN'T YOU DANCE THE POLKA?

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Growing up in a working-class suburb of Baltimore in the Fifties and Sixties--featuring the terrors, troughs of despair, and knock-out triumphs of Beatrice (Bebe) Schmidt, who has moved, with parents and older brother Teddy, from a hearty-eating Wisconsin farm to ""Baldymore."" There, in Dundalk, at the age of seven, Bebe discovers that ""I was fat. . . the Biggest Kid on the Block."" Her mother is quiet; her father, a mild-mannered engineer by day, is the Sage of Dundalk by night--given to flights of oratory and lectures on the pitfalls of pride, etc. (He delivers one confusing lecture on pacifism and cowardice after ten-ton Bebe flees from a skinny kid. . . who's ""capable of removing a human heart with her teeth."") Among the booby-traps and glories in youth's golden meadow: the class bully's Terror Route; the humiliation of Chubette fashions; the heady elevation to ""class smartass""; and, at twelve, the dieting down from Bebe's 202 pounds. Then, in adolescence during the Presley/circlepin/beehive era, there are best-friend feuds and the joys of ""hanging."" (In Baldymore you didn't ""hang out."") Bebe toys with the idea of sainthood, experiences the first siren blat of Sex (Vinnie, with the root-beer eyes, kisses like no other), and enjoys an exhilarating Christmas--""oily-eyed and ankle-walking"" after her first laced punch. Throughout, however, there are threads of tragedy: remembered glimpses of abused children; the death of young people; a serious love affair; and above all, the pervasive sadness when Pop loses his spirit--and his life--to cancer. Still, with everyday hassles, Main Street snapshots, and Dundalk's wayward patois (""How do you like my new sexual furniture?""), this is a lighthearted, likable chronicle overall: nostalgic merriment for the many graduates of ""hanging"" circa 1960.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow