A tender, plaintive memoir about the impact of a beloved father's demise on a blue-collar Irish Catholic family.
Novelist Wood (Any Bitter Thing, 2005, etc.) grew up in a paper-mill town in Maine where she was one of many “children of well-paid laborers” who were living the American Dream. But everything changed in April 1963 when her father, upon whom the burden of maintaining that dream rested, died at the age of 57. Without his sure and steady presence, the 9-year-old Wood experienced “a profound dislocation, a feeling like slipping on the shifting surface of my allotted scrap of God's earth.” The sense of loss was as disorienting for her as it was for her siblings, who now measured their days by how long it had been since they had last seen their father alive. But the Wood children ultimately fared better than Mumma, their housewife mother, and Father Bob, their priest uncle. Mumma haunted her family's home “like a spirit from the ghost stories she and Dad love to tell” and spent her days sleeping in her children's beds. Father Bob succumbed to a crippling depression that sent him to the hospital. Just as the family began putting their lives back together again, another beloved Irish patriarch, John F. Kennedy, also died. Now all Americans knew the kind of loss that had become a fact of life for the Wood family. The author provides a genuinely compelling depiction of family grief, but the Kennedy tragedy functions more as an interesting narrative sidebar than as a major part of the storyline.
Bittersweet end-of-innocence family drama.