A debut memoir excavates the secrets and multigenerational dysfunctions of a family.
Meyers’ life did not begin auspiciously. Conceived to keep her father, Gerry, out of World War II, she became less consequential when he was given 4-F status a few months before her arrival. Gerry and Tessie, children of Eastern European immigrants, were raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn when the area was essentially a Jewish ghetto. Their marriage was at best tumultuous, and Meyers spent her childhood navigating the space between her warring parents. Gerry was a womanizer who played on the edges of the Jewish mob. As a teenager, he was a leader in the Amboy Dukes, a feeder gang for Murder Inc., although there is no indication that he joined the “corporation.” Tessie was emotionally fragile and attempted suicide several times (finally succeeding in 1970). In 1957, the teenage Meyers spent the summer at a Catskills bungalow colony, where her grandmother worked a small concession. There the author met Ralph Lifshitz and fell passionately in love. Unfortunately, the relationship ended before it really began, and in 1961, desperate to move away from home, she married her buddy Howard. Twelve years and three sons later, they divorced. Meyers went on to college and a new marriage; she is currently a psychologist and psychoanalyst. The complex narrative, a series of long, evocative essays, often moves back and forth in time, as one experience or another is related to a memory from the past. This produces some repetition. But edgy, masterful prose, sprinkled with the Yiddish expressions of Meyers’ youth, gradually peels away the layers of hurt, confusion, and guilt—and includes a few surprises (for example, Ralph’s current identity). Of her grandparents’ marriage, she writes: “Eva, unlike Harry, was unable to protest. She packed her dreams in her suitcase, walked down the aisle and took the oath of servitude.” The author’s descriptions of 1940s Brooklyn, where she spent time with her grandmother, paint a sharp period portrait: “The butcher shop had sawdust on the floor, a finger on the scale, and Esther, the chicken plucker, in the corner.”
A touching, angry, humorous, and engaging account of a turbulent life.