Journalist O’Connor’s riveting debut traces a childhood shaped by his mother’s and father’s lies and his adult quest to uncover the truths they hid.
The author grew up knowing virtually nothing of his parents’ pasts or extended families, though his mother’s accent did reveal that she was English. The absence of cousins and grandparents was just one oddity. The O’Connors were also constantly moving, establishing tentative, tenuous households and then fleeing town in the middle of the night. They had a particular fear of government officials, and any encounter with cops left Mrs. O’Connor shaken for days. Given all this moving, the O’Connors were unable to make much money, and they slipped from a precarious perch in the middle class to shocking poverty. In late adolescence, the author finally recognized that life at home was poisonous, his parents unstable and deceptive. He moved out and had only sporadic contact with them in the ensuing decades, when he worked as a reporter for CBS News, the New York Times and NPR. Only after both his parents died did O’Connor’s two younger sisters beg him to tackle the mystery of their lives as though it were a political scandal he was assigned to expose. He began to dig, grudgingly at first but then increasingly determined to discover the secrets that had shaped his childhood. His research took him to Boston, where he connected with his father’s large family; to Burnley, England, where an elderly union organizer told him stories about his mother and uncle; and into the offices of the CIA, FBI and INS, following a sketchy paper trail that shed light on the government’s interest in his parents. O’Connor is a sympathetic narrator, never bitter, who reveals the complexities of every last character.
By the end of this suspenseful memoir, readers will be just as eager as the author to discover what kept his family on the run.