AN AMERICAN GIRL: The Trials and Charms of Growing Up in 1930s America by Mary Cantwell
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AN AMERICAN GIRL: The Trials and Charms of Growing Up in 1930s America

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From New York Times editorial-board member and veteran columnist Cantwell, a memoir of growing up during the 1930's and 40's in the town of Bristol, New Hampshire. ""I have come down with the Bristol Complaint,"" Cantwell announces early in the book: ""People who have the Bristol Complaint can never leave town. The elm trees snag them. So does the harbor and the wild roses and the history."" Cantwell does, of course, manage to leave town, but the town remains inside her, and, here, she brings it to her readers all the way back from its history of colonial immigrants and traders, of General LaFayette (who once camped there, but left when winter set in) and of ""Philip, King of the Wampanoags"" (the bones of whose people lie under the ground)--and on through the lives of her beloved grandparents, known as Ganny and Gampy (she still believes Gampy was once a bootlegger); of her own parents, Leo Cantwell and Mary Lonergan; and thus to the birth and growing up of Mary Lee Cantwell and her younger sister, Diana. Seldom have a town and its memoirist been more perfectly blended than they are here (""It was as if Bristol were a book I couldn't put down,"" says the author), and in her subtle and delicately told tales of being a young child, of getting polio, of remembering WW II, of learning the stark cruelties of social class, of struggling into adolescence, of finally graduating from high school and getting ready to leave home--in all of these, Cantwell embraces sentiment without ever becoming sentimental, and makes her words fall into place with a quiet perfection. ""If I don't get out of Bristol it will always be three o'clock in the afternoon,"" she says; and yet, even so, amid much, much more, she remembers for us a long-ago afternoon with her highschool girlfriends when ""we walked through air that was as silver as the bay."" Evocative, lovely, deeply felt, and mature personal writing about a past that's gone.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Random House