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A superbly crafted, offbeat memoir from novelist Cunningham (Third Parties, Sweet Nothings), fondly recollecting a girlhood spent in the Bronx during the 50's. As a young girl encouraged by her unmarried mother, ""Lily"" spins fictions of an absent father fighting overseas long after the war has ended. When her mother dies suddenly, rupturing the bond fostered between the two in their cramped apartment across from Yankee Stadium, Lily is joined by her kooky uncles: Len, a ""cross between Sam Spade and President Lincoln,"" and Gabe, a deeply religious man who composes ditzy songs that he's prone to deliver at full tilt. Bachelors in their 40s with little experience with housekeeping, Len and Gabe throw themselves into the task with admirable if misguided zeal. Charged with cooking, which he performs in chef's hat or pith helmet depending on the weather, Len serves such imaginative breakfast fare as tuna croquettes, baked beans, and popcorn. Then along comes ""Etka from Minsk,"" Lily's grandmother, who clips unwanted relatives from family photos and pilfers the girl's clothing and jewelry, and the family is complete. Other lovable portraits emerge--of Lily's sexually precocious and inappropriately named friend Diana, who stubbornly and jealously wears a sister's first communion dress for months on end, looking like ""a soiled, miniature bride""; and of ""El Beasto,"" a sour-breathed fifth-grade teacher who pays a ""home visit"" that forces a mortified Lily to view her oddball relations from an outsider's perspective for the first time. Extraordinary and yet surprisingly close to home, these portraits, along with evocations of a ""torture vacation"" at camp and petty schoolyard humiliations, distill the essence of a child's innocence and anguish. A delightful, affectionate, and moving remembrance for Cunningham veterans and newcomers alike.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1989
ISBN: 0753164701
Publisher: Knopf