CROSSING OCEAN PARKWAY: Readings by an Italian American Daughter by Marianna De Marco Torgovnick

CROSSING OCEAN PARKWAY: Readings by an Italian American Daughter

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In this memoir Torgovnick (English/Duke Univ.) proves herself to be a rare breed: a cultural critic who writes lucidly and perceptively not only about her chosen texts, but about herself. The first half of the book consists of autobiographical essays on crossing boundaries of class, religion, education, and place, as an Italian-American woman. Torgovnick grew up in Bensonhurst, a working-class, predominantly Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. Ocean Parkway, which divides Bensonhurst from Sheepshead Bay (the middle-class, Jewish neighborhood into which she eventually married), symbolized upward mobility and the possibilities of life beyond the confines of her insular world. These essays describe her experiences as an academically successful girl in a community where intellectual expectations for girls were low; later, as a professor in a Waspy college town, she also felt herself an outsider. The book's latter half consists of essays of cultural criticism, on Italian-American icons such as The Godfather, as well as other American literary institutions -- Dr. Dolittle, critic Lionel Trilling, and the canon. Torgovnick writes her critical pieces in the same intimate, personal voice she uses in the memoirs. Throughout, she is willing to revise and add complexity to her own narratives. In an epilogue on her father's death, for instance, she reflects that, although she felt that she was rebelling against him in ""crossing Ocean Parkway"" -- marrying Jewish, going to college, and moving out of the neighborhood -- he may have been more of an ally than she had thought. He protested when she skipped grades in school, yet he also gave her books, took her into the city, and was a model of gender rebellion -- pulling down the shades so the neighbors couldn't see him doing housework. Torgovnick's scholarly background and life experience inform her readings of both American culture and her own past; she has found an essayist's voice that is very much her own.

Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago