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Closing Time: A Memoir Hardcover – April 16, 2009

61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

In his review for the New York Times Book Review, James McManus wrote that Closing Time is likely to intensify whatever opinion readers already hold about Joe Queenan. This seemed true for critics, too, who were sharply divided about the book. Some saw it as unflinchingly honest—a memoir of Irish life in America on par with Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (which, curiously, Queenan panned). But others saw it as a hopelessly cynical, unforgiving, and indulgent memoir—self-pitying in just the way Queenan says the rest of Americans have come to be. Indeed, on the basis of these divergent reactions, the main reason to read Closing Time might not be to enjoy it but to find out if you are the type of person who can.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

From Booklist

After eviscerating everyone from filmmakers to sports fans, cultural critic and humorist Queenan takes the hatchet to himself in this memoir of growing up poor in Philadelphia. The book is dominated by Queenan’s Irish Catholic father, the “lunatic-in-chief” who routinely loses several jobs per year and takes out his frustrations with copious amounts of booze and violent strappings of his brood. It is this relationship that frames the rest of Queenan’s youth, from the part-time job supervisors who become surrogate fathers to the misguided stab at seminary school as a means to escape the belt. Along the way, Queenan catalogs poverty with a specificity that is nearly exhausting; there’s no romance here, only the banal and frequently hilarious chronicling of the indignity of off-brand Fig Newtons and generic versions of hit records. Queenan never met a synonym he didn’t like (in under three pages, a jail is a hoosegow, calaboose, slammer, and pokey), but this loquaciousness evokes the ludicrous nature of his upbringing while providing humor few others could bring to such dark material. As is often the case with memoirs, Queenan’s latter years are less riveting, but his adolescence will have readers crying tears of both sorrow and hilarity. --Daniel Kraus
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (April 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067002063X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670020638
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,197,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Deck on July 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is my first Joe Queenan book. I'd like to read more.

Closing Time is not refreshing, nor is it delightful. Anyone who has had to deal with an alcoholic in the family can relate to the author's love-hate relationship with his father. Other reviews have chastized Queenan for being self-serving and of not seeing any good in his father. Quite the contrary, I think Queenen does a good job of trying to find some good to wrap around his father's memory. It is obvious that Queenan owes his love of language and reading to his father, and gives him credit for such. And in a perverse way, Queenan's retreating into books as an escape became, in part, his salvation.

The book holds a particular interest for me. I grew up in that neighborhood about 10 years before Joe. I left just as the neighborhood began to change, in the early 60's, but this book rang true to the personalities, the sounds, the catch-phrases, and the mind set of the place. As a Protestant, I remember being very jealous of the Catholic girls at St.Benedict's because they got to wear white dresses and veils for the May procession. I can also remember my mother chastising me for walking home from school with a "colored boy", and telling me to be carefule of Eye-talians". As appalling as that sounds now, it was what it was.

Some reviewers seem to take offense that Queenan is so hard on his father, only assigning blame. I wonder what book they were reading. I think the author gives quite a number of people in his life credit for having set him on a track other than the one he might have traveled. That includes his father. Is he bitter, and can he be scathing with respect to some of his father's peccadillos? You betcha, but having lived with an alcoholic parent, I can relate.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Kerwick on August 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Several times during the course of reading Closing Time I got the impression that this work might have been the result of a therapist's recommendation to the author as a vehicle to purge one hell of a lot of demons from his past. I seriously doubt that it was, however, for two reasons. First, the milieu in which he grew up as an approximately working-class ethnic in Philadelphia placed little to no value on professional counseling of that sort and it's clear that the author doesn't either. Second, Queenan reveals so much that is painfully frank and discomfiting for the reader that it's hard to imagine that he'd keep a fact like that to himself. Any self-healing intent behind revealing his pathological childhood experiences must almost certainly be self-prescribed.

I have been a devoted fan of Queenan's writing, most particularly his razor-edged and often mean-spirited cultural, sports and entertainment critiques, for a dozen years or more. In a more general sense I've taken a particular delight in his ability to construct sentences juxtaposing highly elevated concepts and terminology with the lowest quality crap culture cliches. I've even tried to mimic that skill in my own work, often at the cost of misunderstanding or offensiveness to sensitive readers. It's something of which I never tire and there's a more than a fair amount of it in Closing Time for regular Queenan fans.

What is also in Closing Time that is seldom seen anywhere else is an unflinching, unforgiving and unapologetic description of not only the conditions, but also the mindsets, of people moving back and forth in the vague area between the working class and the underclass.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Rick Shaq Goldstein on April 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a memoir of a stark loveless abusive childhood that is centered in Philadelphia. Where most children wake up in the morning and can't wait to go outside and play... the author and his sisters woke up and hoped their Father was dead. And while these brutal belt buckle beatings were administered by the Father upon his young children... the Mother hid in her room behind stacks of newspapers... seemingly oblivious to the thrashings taking place outside her bedroom door. In addition to the beatings... alcohol fueled dissertations on subjects that ranged from politics... to religion... to conspiracy theories... through all hours of the night... were at times spoken to captive children dragged out of bed... and in later years... when the author would barricade himself inside his room with a knife in his shoe under his bed... the Father would speak to imaginary guests.

"MY FATHER GOT BROKEN WHEN HE WAS YOUNG, AND HE NEVER GOT FIXED. HE MAY HAVE WANTED TO BE A GOOD FATHER, A GOOD HUSBAND, A GOOD MAN, BUT HE WAS NOT CUT OUT FOR THE JOB. HE LIKED TO DRINK."

The author is at his best in two modes... when he summarizes a situation... and when he provides a character study that combines "street-sense" and humor. An example is his succinct summary through a poor families eyes foretelling soon-to-be trouble in paradise: "WE HATED TO SEE HIM START DRINKING, BECAUSE AS SOON AS HE OPENED THAT FIRST BOTTLE OF BEER WE REALIZED THAT HE HAD ALREADY GIVEN UP ON THE DAY." He makes it blatantly clear that his family did not mirror the idealistic families portrayed on TV. "OUR FIFTIES FAMILY LIFE BORE NO RESEMBLANCE TO THE WORLD OF LUCY AND RICKY RICARDO OR WARD AND JUNE CLEAVER. WARD DID NOT BEAT HIS CHILDREN WITH THE BUCKLE OF HIS LEATHER BELT.
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