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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2009
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. My impression is that the very exercise of writing this book was a catharsis. Reading it has been the same.

This has not been an easy book for me to read; I usually whip through a book in a day, but I'm trying to make this one last. The author's command of language is astounding, and at times a little too over-the-top. Were he in a conversation with me, I would be tempted to tell him: "get over yourself, already". On the other had, those words allow him to say exactly THE right thing -- paint the perfect picture. Use a dictionary if you need to. Glory in those words! Your English teacher would be proud of you.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2009
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. I don't think I've read anything so cooly objective and analytical on a matter that is so subjective and emotional and certainly nothing that is so free of excuses, rationalizations or overt pity and pity-mongering. Nonetheless, I don't expect that anyone can read the first several chapters dealing with the Queenan family's early and most difficult family and financial difficulties without experiencing a strong physical feeling of uneasiness and discomfort that is something beyond and in addition to ordinary compassion. That, whether indended or consequential, is a great achievement for the writer.

Closing Time was also a fascinating experience for me, because I attended the same huge Catholic High School as the author, graduating a year behind him. Although, as he notes, it was commonplace to be in total ignorance of hundreds of other individuals there at the time, I was delighted to see the names or easily decipherable references to about a dozen people I knew. Although there were a few minor discrepencies with my memories, Queenan's recollections of major points after 40 years were highly accurate. I was also quite taken in by his characterization of the Philadelphia Irish Catholic mentality and mores of the late 50s, 60s and early 70s. Although I was lucky to have grown up in comparatively much easier circumstances, I could still see a very large amount of familiar material in his descriptions and characterizations. While that alone is not a strong basis to recommend the book, it does mark Closing Time as quite unique as a portrait of a part of American society and history that is pretty much gone now and which I've never seen reported or discussed with anything close to the accuracy and candor that is present here.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2009
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. RICKY DID NOT DRINK BOILERMAKERS ALL NIGHT WHILE HIS FAMILY WENT HUNGRY. LUCY DID NOT SUFFER FROM MANIC DEPRESSION. JUNE COULD COOK."

Being that Queenan did not have a positive role model as a Father figure he tried to find a surrogate Father wherever he could. Living... or dead. The most enjoyable part of this otherwise bleak saga... are the chapters involving two of the aforementioned Father figures... one was Len Mohr a former Marine who owned a clothing store and hired a young Queenan and took him under his wing. A steady stream of life's dilapidated characters flowed in and out of Len's store... and Len handled them all with aplomb. The author loved the way real "men-of-the-world-men-about-town" talked: "HE TOOK THE FIVE FINGER DISCOUNT... HE'S STILL WET BEHIND THE EARS... HE GOT CAUGHT PLAYING A TUNE ON THE CASH REGISTER"... and their savvy acumen: "THEY KNEW ALL ABOUT SKID ROW. THEY COULD IMMEDIATELY ASCERTAIN WHO WAS A LITTLE LIGHT IN THE LOAFERS, WHO WAS NOT PLAYING WITH A FULL DECK, WHO WAS A PUNCH-DRUNK LOLLAPALOOZA, AND WHO WAS MOST LIKELY TO TAKE A DIVE. THEY LIKED GRITTY CARBUNCLE IN THE FIFTH AT AQUEDUCT, THOUGH ONLY TO PLACE, AND WERE SURE AS SHOOTIN' THAT SUGAR RAY ROBINSON WOULD TAKE OUT KID GAVILAN WITH JUST ONE PUNCH, BECAUSE GAVILAN WAS A TIN CAN, IF NOT AN OUTRIGHT PALOOKA, WHO COULDN'T FIGHT HIS WAY OUT OF A PAPER BAG AND WAS, IN ANY CASE, SO SKINNY HE HAD TO COME OUT TWICE JUST TO MAKE HIS OWN SHADOW."

*"LEN USED THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE LIKE A GUN RACK FROM WHICH HE COULD SELECT THE WEAPON BEST SUITED TO INCAPACITATING THE PREY AT HAND."*

There is much more darkness than light in this memoir that follows the author from the projects... to religious training... and a short lived desire to be a priest... with the only reason for considering the priesthood being an escape from his Father for whom he wished nothing but death... to his college education and career as a writer. At times this chronicle is hard to read simply because of the absence of even the minimal love of a child that this world should surely... but doesn't always... provide.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2009
A painful account of an abusive childhood, which the author manages to transcend and survive at substantial emotional cost. Severely burdened and emotionally scarred by a Father from Hell, Queenan takes us through the various stages of his life--complete with guilt, anger and efforts to understand. Because I found the narrative very slow and dreary to begin with, I started thumbing and skimming to the middle, where the action picked up considerably. My interest piqued, I then skimmed backwards to fill in the details. A circuitous way of reading, but satisfying in the end.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
It is a pleasure to read a memoir from a writer as literate as Joe Queenan. I had my trusty electronic dictionary at my side while I read this book. Just about every page had an unfamiliar -- but entirely apt -- word or two.

The poverty-stricken, alcohol-blasted, violence-riddled Irish or Irish-American childhood is almost a cliche by now. Angela's Ashes,Hungry Hill -- there are plenty of books that attest to the breathtaking cruelty of a certain type of father. Mr. Queenan's book tells this sad story once again.

Mr. Queenan was a powerless victim of his father's alcoholism and rage, and no less a victim of his mother's cowardice and indifference. She retreated to her bedroom to read the newspaper while her drunken husband beat their children, belt buckles tearing into their flesh. While some reviewers felt Mr. Queenan's writing is too tinged with anger and the need for revenge, I say good for him. He could not speak out as a child; he has every right to as an adult. I respect him for even attempting to have a relationship with this monster as an adult. "I saw no reason to be cruel to my ancient enemy," he writes of attending his father's last days.

Mr. Queenan writes lyrically but starkly about the poverty of his childhood: "Poverty is a tumor it takes a lifetime to excise, because poverty is lodged deep inside the brain in a dark corner where the once-poor don't want to look." He recalls a time his father drank away his paycheck while he and his sister, alone and desperately hungry, gnawed on raw spaghetti noodles.

The vividness of these scenes kept me engrossed in the book. Yet, after a while, the tale becomes repetitive. As when I read Columbine, I didn't want to be in the company of the perpetrator after a while. He's just another drunk, no matter how evocatively Mr. Queenan writes about him. It's a huge relief -- for the reader and the author -- when the guy finally dies: "My father was dead, and I did not miss him." What a sad, yet brave, epitaph.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2009
I loved Joe Queenan's memoir, "Closing Time." This is an accurate account of the experiences of many people in lower and working class Philadelphia during the 1950's and 60's. As a Philadelphian who lived much like Queenan during that time, I can attest to his accuracy of living in the margins and feeling not quite good enough. I also loved reading about my old stomping grounds -- the streets, stores, schools etc. I'm glad that Queenan pulled himself up and overcame the obstacles that seem to hold so many people down. Despite a dysfunctional family, he excelled in school and aimed for higher aspirations than just working a regular 9-5 job. Thanks Joe for a great story. It's my story too!
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
This delightful book is a refreshing antidote to the hundreds -- no, thousands -- of self-indulgent whinefests about the authors' miserable childhoods and unworthy parents and all those preening self-help books cluttering up American bookstores. Joe Queenan had it as tough as anybody ever had it with his parents, especially his father. His memory is brutally clear, his prose sparkling and his history refreshingly sane. He does not minimize what happened to him, but he has transcended his past and is a better person and better writer for it. How refreshing to read a sentence like "Having a bad father is no excuse for being a bad son"!! A simple sentence, but read this book and you will understand how many decades of thoughtful struggle, perseverance and guts it took Joe Queenan to be able to write it. He had to dig deep within himself to get to the point where he could write this book and did so in a determined, tough and ultimately very successful way. He understands himself and his life without falling into maudlin self-pity or other vices Americans are today so eager to overshare with the public. He is hard on AA and never had to be psychoanalyzed. This book is full of grit, determination, and that rarest of commodities, wisdom. It has laugh out loud moments and others that make you stop and think about your own life. An extraordinary, moving, interesting and all-around wonderful book.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2010
There was an article about the book in the Phila Inquirer. Because it talked about the same town I grew up, I purchased it. In fact, I lived in the Abbortsfords Projects in Phila and I had very similiar experiences Joe had growing up. I went to St. Bridgets, I had a abusive father, (My dad and I actually reconciled when I was 45 years old, two years before his death)I walk the same streets in East Falls as he did. I hung out in the Park near Grace Kelly's house. I lived on Conrad street at one point. My father and I went to our first baseball game after we reconciled. He asked me if he could buy me a program. I broke down. My dad and I at a ballgame something we never did Anyway, I loved the book, I felt I was with Joe as he wrote the book as he grew up and went to school. Joe's life and mine are quite similiar, its quite uncanny to say the least.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2009
The highest praise I have for any book is a capacity to make me laugh aloud and weep simultaneously. Clearly, Queenan has mastered this art. The book is punctuated with some wonderful descriptions and insights but I came away sensing that Queenan inhabits a world of pain, a sharp tongue his only recompense for the moral insanity he was subjected to as a child. He professes not to love his father. This book is some evidence to the contrary.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2009
After hearing Queenan speak about "Closing Time" on NPR as I journeyed up I95 this summer, I had to read it and am glad I did! The book is a tour de force of intelligence. I know I could reread it with profit and dictionary-in-hand to look up all the Latin-derived words. The humor of the writing saves "Closing Time" from being totally tragic or maudlin. I find myself wishing I could tell Queenan to study the subject of "forgiveness". Were he able to overcome his anger, I feel he would be more at peace with his father and mother and himself -- but, then, we wouldn't have had this funny,sad book. He certainly understands us "Irish-Americans" as a subculture.
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