Godges presents a vast narrative depicting what it means to be an American, told through the lens of an expressive family story.
Written in four parts, Godges’ first memoir spans his family’s immigrant beginnings to his parents’ assimilation to a family of six kids growing up, growing apart and finally coming back together. The memoir is rich with the cultural history of 20th-century America; the hardships of immigrants, the harrowing times of the Depression and World War II, dealing with mental illness, the tumultuous Vietnam-era social divide and the AIDS epidemic all impact Godges’ family. The author shines a spotlight on each member of the family particularly affected by these events, hanging back until his turn to present a facet of American life deeply meaningful to him—being a gay man in this country. Roman Catholicism also permeates the book, providing a pillar of community for the Italian- and Polish-American family, but also becoming a divisive force between husband and wife and parent and child, causing the family to face questions over divorce and homosexuality. The intricately crafted narrative is written with the specificity of a historian, seamlessly flowing through the decades. Yet the book is also poignant and personal, capturing the intimate, intricate workings of a family with amazing clarity. Godges concludes that “to be an American in the fullest sense of the word meant to discover oneself as an individual within a community.” This ambitious book succeeds in negotiating the balance between individual and community, telling the engrossing story of an individual family within the greater society of America.
A satisfying, well-crafted reminder of how one family’s story can encapsulate the cultural history of America as a whole.