A glimpse of two parents’ teenage years in the 1920s, gleaned from entries from the mother’s diary and pieces of the father’s autobiography, with embellishment from their daughter.
In her later years, Pellettiere’s mother, Ruth, gradually faded away due to Alzheimer’s. Like many children, Pellettiere wondered what her mother was really like. To find out, she presents her mother’s teenage diary entries. Ruth grew up in 1920s Illinois, and her writings are filled with the worries and concerns of a teenage girl—schoolwork, finding a job, going on dates, and interacting with friends and family. Her future husband also grew up then, but his autobiographical account is concerned more with the problems of working, finding a career and making a living than with personal relationships—a fact noted by their daughter, who, in between their letters, provides a running commentary that portrays a marriage in which a domineering, career-obsessed man gradually eroded his wife’s personality until there was little left. This book can be read on two levels. On the surface, the text is banal, rarely more than mundane comments on life, people and events; on a deeper level, however, the greater questions loom. What constitutes a life? How do we get from A to Z over the course of a lifetime? How does a smiling, hopeful young girl become a taciturn, tired older woman? Pellettiere ends the book with a black-and-white picture of a young, smiling Ruth looking hopeful for the future, unaware what her tragic future holds. Although tedious, the guileless text provides an opportunity to read about real people and their honest concerns, without all the artificial drama found in Facebook updates, cellphones, text messages and pervasive social media. Life seemed simpler back then: Christmas, for instance, was a modest affair, without today’s nonstop commercial assault. Are we better off today?
Tedium sometimes drags the narrative down, but readers will most likely appreciate the frank reflections from another era.