An elegiac reflection on growing up, deferring dreams, and understanding loss.
“You have to embellish when you tell a story,” Sheedy’s father advises him at the start of this debut memoir. The author’s story begins with vivid anecdotes about coming-of-age in a large, Catholic family in 1950s and ’60s Connecticut. The author had four siblings, but his relationship with his big sister, Peggy is the central one—it’s a tender, symbiotic connection and the lens through which he views his own history. Sheedy offers tightly focused vignettes, and their economy gives them punch and pace even without an overall narrative arc apart from chronology. Burnished memories of buzzing summers spent in swimming holes and strawberry patches set a sentimental tone, contrasted with the anguish of too-soon deaths and strokes of truly bad luck. But the author’s embellishments seem minimal in these stories, as his focus is more on instruction. For example, a deadly flood in 1955—massive enough to unseat the neighbor’s house from its foundation—offers a case study in the value of charity rather than a dramatic set piece. The tale of a father who could never quite get ahead in life isn’t presented as a tragedy but as a quiet example of a kind, flawed man doing his best. In the world of Sheedy’s memory, there’s no large-scale injustice: hardship occurs by chance, and redemption comes with honest striving toward goodness. When the author reaches college, his ambitions come into focus, but, like his father, he rarely gets the breaks he needs. He places gentle blame on himself, telling of how he remained satisfied with entry-level jobs and how he was apt to let romantic entanglements subvert career opportunities. But he also maintains a mature, sanguine perspective throughout this memoir, suggesting that he wouldn’t have had it any other way. At the end, the premature illness and decline of his sister Peggy, as they both approach middle-age, compels him to prepare for his greatest loss: “The stories of our lives are loosely plotted,” he writes her in a letter. “What if I could choose my endings?”
A carefully constructed remembrance that offers poignancy without sacrificing sincerity.