Metcalf’s memoir explores growing up in 1950s and ’60s California with a complicated family.
The author’s mother and father got a divorce at a time when it was still taboo. Later, her family included several half siblings; her sister, Lynn; and multiple grandparents, including the artistic Nana. The first part of the memoir is crammed with genealogy, which slows the story down, but the pace picks up when Metcalf’s mother remarries. The author’s relationship with her stepfather is depicted as initially fraught with anger and suspicion, but later, they seem to come to an understanding. Metcalf dreamt of being a Hollywood star and liked to socialize rather than study. After getting suspended at public school, she attended an all-girls Catholic high school and later converted to the faith. Eventually, after going through romantic relationships and secretarial school, she wound up at the University of California, Berkeley. Metcalf grew up in a time that was politically and socially shifting, but she always brings the story back to her own family. The title, for example, refers to the pattern on her parents’ wedding silverware; it appears to symbolize transition, and she uses it as a theme threaded throughout the narrative. Unfortunately, it’s a loose thread, and one that often feels like an afterthought. The most complex, humorous, and tense relationship is between Metcalf and her mother, who obsessed over appearances, which, in turn, encouraged Metcalf to rebel in numerous ways. But throughout their tug of war, Metcalf still loved her mother and her penchant for telling stories. The author’s style successfully captures her childlike innocence and wonder throughout. However, the sentences can be stilted at times, and the dialogue sometimes unnaturally provides background information (“I said, ‘Now that I know something about the rosary, tell me about confession’ ”). Some scenarios are surprising, but they’re sadly rushed, such as when the author describes experimenting with cutting herself with scissors as a 7-year-old. As the narrator, however, Metcalf is likable; amidst school suspensions, called-off engagements, and dropping out of college, she remains bright, inquisitive, and always up for the next adventure.A humorous and colorful, if unevenly paced, coming-of-age story.