A debut memoir that recalls the writer’s struggles to succeed and find happiness despite the obstacles—familial, social, legal, and personal—that stood in her way.
Crosby grew up in the postwar Bronx facing a verbally and physically abusive mother, a family that made her a scapegoat, and a society that expected her to conceal her talents rather than threaten male egos. Head-turningly beautiful, a superior student, an accomplished pianist and swimmer, and pious, Crosby had dreamed of becoming a nun—a dream that she hid from her family because she knew they would mock her. Instead, she earned a degree in chemistry from Fordham University at a time when she had to get her diploma through the School of Education because women weren’t allowed to get degrees through the science department. Crosby’s job opportunities were limited by sexism, but she worked as a research assistant, earned a master’s in philosophy, became a forensic criminalist, and taught chemistry at Santa Monica College in California. Along the way, she married and later split up with her husband; she had two children, three abortions, and a miscarriage. She details her battles with addiction and her recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous; money, health, and legal worries; family tensions; and relationship troubles in this memoir. The title reflects Crosby’s anguish about wanting to be “good” in the way she was taught but also wanting to follow her heart. She ends with a firm statement of her intention with this memoir: “to honor lives lost long ago, to uphold the freedom that is essential to all moral choices, and to claim the right to my own life at last.” Younger readers may find it difficult to believe the number of impediments that women faced before feminism’s gains, but Crosby delivers convincing and blood pressure–raising descriptions of the injustices she encountered. She lays out her own contradictions with rueful honesty, such as not using birth control despite engaging in an active sex life or trying “to fix the whole world when I could barely pay my rent.” The book can become tedious, though, in detailing minutiae. Readers may feel compassion but also fatigue by the end given the author’s long memory for slights and her forays into triviality. Still, the story sparkles with compelling details (Crosby dated Buzz Aldrin for a time) and remains undeniably sympathetic.
A bracing vindication of the rights of women through one remarkable woman’s postwar story.