A memoir encourages people of all ages to pursue their passions, artistic or otherwise.
Contino (As Life Goes On, 2015, etc.) organizes the text into 53 short chapters and begins with a turning point. As she enjoyed St. Thomas on her 40th birthday and reflected on her teaching career at the junior high level, she made the momentous decision to take her life in another direction and attend graduate school. The author then returns to her earlier years as a second-generation Italian-American growing up in the post–World War II era, where she felt that her options were limited. Heaven forbid that she become a writer! She wistfully paraphrases her community’s reaction to such an endeavor: “Good Italian women don’t write! What will the neighbors think? Vergogna! Shame!” Thus, she found other outlets for her creativity in the classroom and, more important, after school with colleagues who spearheaded the theater program. As she wryly comments: “I moaned, screamed, bitched, and cried over each production but loved every second I was involved.” Through her anecdotes from this period, Contino demonstrates the challenges and value of the dramatic arts as part of a child’s education. Subsequently, she began her doctoral program with eight weeks of study abroad, soaking up everything that London and West Yorkshire had to offer. The fact that she devotes 12 chapters to this short period shows its importance and represents a refreshing change of scenery, as the majority of the memoir takes place in New York City. It is a testament to her writing skills that readers may experience agita in view of the chaotic professional life, academic pursuits, and family obligations that dominate the chapters after her return. Indeed, she needed 17 years to complete her dissertation. There are countless humorous moments, such as the spectacle of an old fur coat slowly disintegrating onstage during her first post-England stint as a costume designer and her assertion that studying the works of Brecht and Beckett “was like eating Shredded Wheat without milk.” Regardless of this self-deprecating tone, Contino is proud of her achievements as educator, writer, and designer—and rightly so. Overall, this readable work carries a broad appeal, but it may particularly interest Italian-Americans, New Yorkers, Anglophiles, theater folks, and costume enthusiasts.
An absorbing and inspiring tale of
dreams deferred but ultimately fulfilled.