A debut memoir, told from a child’s perspective, that focuses on life at a small-town bar.
Boggess (née Cherny) and her family lived above Reid’s Hotel & Bar in the industrial town of Rosendale, New York, in the early 1950s. Her parents both worked in the bar, where she often did her elementary school homework before going up to bed. But they didn’t just serve alcohol, the author says; they also imbibed it, which fueled increasingly bitter fights between them. Boggess loved animals, movies, and playing with neighbors “Porky” and Bobby Ann Rosenkranse. She also kept her eyes and ears open, resulting in vibrant descriptions in this memoir—of her mother putting on a girdle, for example, or her father managing to get free vacuum cleaners from salesmen. Holidays help to mark the passage of time in memorable Thanksgiving and Christmas scenes. The dialogue and inner monologues of the author, complete with period slang and cursing, are first-rate, giving every character’s personality its own flavor. For instance, Boggess effectively captures her own 7-year-old reluctance to attend mass on Easter: “Oh, no. Here goes Father Mulry with the freakin’ frankincense.” The carefree innocence of these early childhood reminiscences changes, however, when the author reveals that she was repeatedly sexually abused by an unnamed bar patron, who would enter her unlocked apartment, where she was alone, at night. The trauma caused her to lose sleep and struggle at school, she says; then, one night, the man came into the apartment when Bobby Ann was sleeping over. Bobby Ann informed her own mother of the terrible incident; the author’s father then made sure that the apartment was locked at night, which put a stop to the assaults—though not to the traumatic memories. Although the book is overlong, the ending, in 1955, still feels sudden, and an epilogue gives minimal detail about the author’s later life. The author also occasionally jarringly switches between past and present tense. However, the use of a child’s point of view is convincing, and the quantity—and quality—of the memories here are impressive.
Vivid recollections from a difficult childhood.