Although the author opens with a visit to her mother's native Ireland at 12 and ends with lighting candles in her new home in County Cork four decades later, this is no nostalgic memoir about getting back to your roots. Alice Carey has crafted a tough-minded examination of her complicated relationship with her heritage, a warm tribute to the theatrical free spirits who helped liberate her from an unhappy childhood. She grew up in Queens; her father often hit her and flew into a rage when his wife dared to augment the family's meager finances by working as a maid for Broadway producer Jed Harris. Helping Mammie in the afternoons, Alice glimpsed a glamorous, sophisticated world beyond the constraints of Catholic school and Celtic fatalism. She moved to Greenwich Village in her teens and made her life as a Manhattanite with a weekend home in Fire Island. When AIDS decimated that community in the 1990s, she and her husband moved to Ireland. Making an 18th-century farmhouse habitable is a black comedy Carey describes with a sardonic wit that echoes her Irish forebears and gay friends but is uniquely her own (she names "the Seven Dwarves of Restoration: Happy, Reluctant, Fearful, Suspicious, Wary, Hopeful, and Doubtful"). Her journey towards a new identity as "a real New Yorker living in Ireland" is all the more moving because it is chronicled with sharp perceptiveness and without sentimentality. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
While ostensibly the story of an Irish-American woman's return to the rural country of her forebears, Carey intercuts the story of choosing and restoring a Georgian-Irish "ruin" with her difficult childhood and adolescence in Astoria, Queens, with her sporadically violent janitor father and overworked mother. Yet Carey's childhood is turned around in the early 1960s when her mother begins work as a maid to Broadway producer Jean Dalrymple, and Carey is taken under the wings of Dalrymple's theater people, including famed director Jed Harris. She tells anecdotes of life with the producer's office boys (the "lads") and her renovation ("we were greeted by the Seven Dwarves of Restoration: Happy, Reluctant, Fearful, Suspicious, Wary, Hopeful, and Doubtful") in a marvelous high-low, wryly camp admixture that is as winning as it seems unique, even when telling of a disastrous childhood visist "home" to Ireland (and her pedophilic-priest uncle's wiles). If Carey only sketches out huge swaths of her life her years as a young actress in Greenwich Village and Fire Island's Cherry Grove, her husband's role at GMHC and the full toll that AIDS has taken on their lives, her battle with eosinophil myalgia, the renovations of "the Big House" as opposed to the stables they begin with one looks forward to further installments in this Irish-American partial reverse migration. The book ends with Carey's mother's inglorious death (echoed in Princess Diana's) and the christening of the stables as "Never Faileth." Carey upholds that credo beautifully here. (Feb.) Forecast: While Carey did not quite endure the same trials and tribulations as the brothers McCourt, her idiom and her New York story are firmly in that tradition but on Carey's own terms. The book embraces a variety of demographics and subgenres (feminist, gay and lesbian, New York-philic, emigrant, children of abuse, coming of age) effortlessly, and should cross over to excellent sales.
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