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A Memoir with a Message

by Douglas MacKinnon

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-0788-8
Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Political writer and former White House and Pentagon official MacKinnon (Vengeance is Mine, 2010) recounts his poor childhood with alcoholic parents in a forceful commentary about poverty.

At age six, the author saved his parents from a candle fire (the electricity was, typically, cut off) by tossing a toy bucket of water over the burning mattress on which they lay in an alcohol-induced coma. At eight, he and his siblings were abandoned in a car to succumb to hypothermia while his parents waited out the snowstorm in a bar. By nine, he ducked a shooting rampage by his mother; by 13, he had been stabbed in a gang fight; by 17, his family had been evicted more than 30 times. MacKinnon addresses his pain in a raw voice, with little forgiveness for his criminally neglectful parents. The author eventually fought his way out of poverty and into college, crediting intervening relatives, supportive teachers, love of reading and writing, faith and determination to save his siblings and himself. MacKinnon takes great pride in the fact that he never fell into a life of crime because of his roots and has no sympathy for those who have, a view that dominates later chapters. As a writer for the Reagan White House and director of communications for Bob Dole, MacKinnon hit his stride and honed his stance on poverty. For him, poverty is a moral issue that can only be solved by a collective commitment by legislators to truly understand the experience. The “message” portion of the book would be stronger if he offered a more specific plan for making this happen, and the vitriol he engages in while condemning enemies of the poor (the liberal media and teachers unions) is off-putting. The emotionally and politically charged writing is repetitive and lacks the sophistication and poetry of similar childhood horror stories by Mary Karr and Jeannette Walls. MacKinnon’s powerful example is consistently fueled by his desire to help others and by his laudable perspective that individuals must make use of their gifts despite the odds.

A combative addition to the literature of the war on poverty.