Thursday, April 26, 2012

Angela's Ashes

Last week I read ANGELA'S ASHES, the autobiographical memoir by Frank McCourt, finding myself among what seemed like a tiny minority of people in the English-speaking world who hadn't yet read it. Someone I mentioned it to laughingly asked, "Are you depressed enough yet?" I'm amazed by the way this author could make the story of his early life, shadowed by so much death, loss, poverty, and family dysfunction, into such a riveting tale. If it weren't for McCourt's wit and near-poetic Irish gift for language, the book really would be too depressing to read. The book also highlights the skill required to transform the amorphous messiness of actual life into a story. McCourt structures his narrative with a framework that begins and ends in America, starting with his parents' meeting and his own conception in New York, ending with his return from Ireland to New York as a young man of nineteen. All the action in between illustrates his foreshadowing claim on the first page that there's no unhappy childhood as miserable as an Irish Catholic childhood. Another thought the book left me with: McCourt's phenomenal bravery in writing all those experiences for the world to read. I can't help wondering whether he has any living relatives left and how they reacted to his public revelation of the family's troubles. The conventional advice to "write what you know," if taken to mean "write from your personal life experience," isn't suitable for beginning writers, in my opinion. Drawing on one's own experience is hard; an author has to reach a certain level of maturity to make that kind of writing work, even in fiction where the characters and incidents are heavily disguised to protect the innocent. Margaret L. Carter Carter's Crypt

No comments:

Post a Comment