A pleasant but unexciting memoir of growing up Irish Catholic in New England.
Psychiatric nurse O’Hara (Last of the Donkey Pilgrims, 2004) nostalgically recounts his childhood and teenage years from the 1950s onward. The author was born in England to Irish parents, but his growing family, which would eventually include eight children, moved to Pittsfield, Mass., in 1953. The O’Haras made their home in the living quarters of their local church parish, where the author’s father worked tirelessly as a janitor and his mother was a homemaker. The staunchly Roman Catholic family was very close and worked hard. These circumstances provide the basis for this episodic memoir, in which O’Hara tells a wide range of stories touching on family, religion, parochial school and young love. He writes of his mother’s struggles with depression, which put her in the hospital more than once; of guiltily stealing dimes from the family savings jar to buy candy; and of stern nuns who warned their young students that “[l]ooking at dirty books will leave you reading the classics in braille.” He also chronicles his later teenage years, when he worked as a golf caddy, and, in a bit of a detour, his stint in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. The narrative pace is brisk, and the author maintains an unassuming, amiable tone throughout. Many of the stories are quietly amusing or nostalgic, but they’re also more than a little bland. None are laugh-out-loud funny or cut particularly deep. Readers may also get the distinct feeling that they’ve read these kinds of stories many times before—many of O’Hara’s tales of ruler-wielding Catholic-school nuns are a bit shopworn.
Lacks originality or punch—recommended to readers looking for a light, unchallenging autobiography.