An English teacher’s debut memoir about how a return to his childhood home in Southern California developed into an unexpected—and unexpectedly profound—excavation of his past.
In 1996, Snidow was in crisis. Years of trying for a child with his wife and a failed in vitro pregnancy had left the couple physically and emotionally depleted. On semester leave from his teaching job, the author went back to his hometown of Redondo Beach. There, he visited his elderly mother and took black-and-white film photographs (many of which he includes) of the ordinary suburban details—apartment facades, fences, electric meters—that had infused his boyhood consciousness. He listened to his mother’s stories about her life with his now-deceased father and about each side of the family, one rooted in Nebraska and the other in Virginia. In the meantime, he and his wife adopted a child. New fatherhood inspired Snidow to visit and visually document all the places important to his family. Gradually, he uncovered traces of the “Midwestern hurt” that haunted his mother, including the story of her father, a charming man who had routinely cheated on her mother. Snidow also learned more about his father, a “charming, affable man” with a talent for “casually attract[ing] disaster.” Like his wife, he had also been marked by the past; as a child of the Depression, a “strong sense of dearth” was still present in a makeup that was otherwise generous and hospitable. The author’s story is neither showy nor dramatic, and the narrative occasionally meanders, relying more on the act of telling rather than showing. The book is strongest in its interiority and the way Snidow focuses on the gradual development of a man’s awareness of himself and his place in both family and community history.
A subtly poignant and lyrical memoir.