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Borrowed Finery: A Memoir Hardcover – October 1, 2001

3.7 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In her first memoir, accomplished novelist and children's book author Fox (Desperate Characters) recounts the chaotic and often traumatic circumstances of her childhood. With parents too unstable and self-absorbed to care for her, she was shuffled from doorstep to boarding school, from New York to Cuba to Montreal. "By chance, by good fortune, I had landed in the hands of a fire brigade that passed me along from person to person until I was safe," she writes. The first rescuer was the Rev. Elwood Corning, or, as she fondly refers to him, Uncle Elwood, the "rock of ages." From there, her childhood was a roller coaster ride of uncertainty. Brief periods of living with her parents were painful and confusing. Her mother was like a cyclone of contempt, and her father, despite his affection, was too feeble to shield her. Fox tells her stories with no trace of self-pity. Her style is honest without being laborious, and her recollections bear the unmistakable mark of uncontrived innocence. Highly recommended for public libraries. Stephanie Maher, Warwick, RI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Borrowed Finery:
My parents returned from Europe after a sojourn of three or four years, when I was eleven. They slid into my sight standing on the deck of a small passenger ship out of Marseille that docked in New York City on the Hudson River. They were returning home after their adventures, the most recent being their flight a few weeks earlier from the Balearic Island of Ibiza during the early days of the Spanish Civil War.

It had been years since I'd seen them. They were as handsome as movie stars. Smoke trailed like a festive streamer from the cigarette my mother held between two fingers of her right hand. When she realized we'd spotted her, she waved once and her head was momentarily wreathed in smoke. The gangplank was lowered thunderously across the abyss between the deck and the pier. Passengers began to trickle across it. Suddenly my parents were standing before us, a steamer trunk like a third presence between them. I knew that trunk; I'd seen it in Provincetown years earlier.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805068155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805068153
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #546,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In the unhappy-childhood sweepstakes, practically everyone I know is a contender. My father ran off with a neighbor when I was 14. My mother drank. This friend was beaten. That one was sexually abused. It's a wonder we all made it to adulthood. But we did, and with a sense of ourselves that may be keener because of the pain we grew up with. Kids who are hurt become, inevitably, observers --- they must master their feelings, anticipate attacks, live with abandonment. They must see clearly.
This Paula Fox does, without self-pity and with enormous elegance and understatement. In BORROWED FINERY, the story of the first 20-odd years of her life, she shows us pathological parents, remote from the normal pathways of love: She was barely allowed to be a child at all, in the ordinary sense of being nourished and cared for. It is her mother and father who are the kids in this book: a reckless, feckless, quick-witted, handsome, and thoroughly self-destructive pair. Having abandoned Fox at birth, they proceeded to waltz in and out of her life --- never really taking responsibility, but not letting her forget them, either.
Fox's parents did not hit or rape or starve her. They simply weren't interested and were not often present. And their behavior, when they were there, was so antiparental (unparental is not strong enough) that it boggles the mind: Upon hearing Fox observe that her room-service tray had no milk on it, her father threw the dinner out of the window. She went to bed hungry. He borrowed (and never repaid) fifty dollars from her when she was 11 or 12 and took back a typewriter he'd just given her. Her mother once "fixed" Fox's toothache by taking her on a terrifying car ride through the mountains.
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Format: Hardcover
Amazon reviewers who didn't like this book, didn't get it. It's not supposed to be a deep character study or a search for reasons and answers. It is an evocation of a child's life, bits and pieces she remembers because of their impact. I think it was beautifully written. That the parents were irresponsible is without question, but finding out why they were or how they should have been punished isn't the point.
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By A Customer on April 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I had never even heard of this author and a friend was reading it at work and couldnt put it down. Immediately I was taken over by the story and her writing which made me feel I was right there living and experiencing what life was like for her.Her characters are so true and she writes with such honesty and wonderful description. I ended up ordering every other book she has written for adults and then when I asked other people about her it seems the whole world has read Paula Fox and loved her work except for me. IM so glad to have discovered her and reading her memoir makes reading her other books even more special.Even Oprah recommended her. I just keep passing Borrowed Finery on to everyone I know and so far they have had the same reactions as I have. I think this book should win alot of awards.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is one of the most moving and brilliantly written memoirs I have read in several years. Fox writes with a brevity that is breathtaking;this book is filled with prose,humor,truthtelling and a remarkable acceptance of the major life blows she was dealt.I can see why she has won so many awards with her writing and why this book was on the Times top ten.I have ordered copies for most of my friends and know I will read it many times over.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paula Fox is the writer of six fine novels that have just come back into print. Borrowed Finery is a memoir of her life that provides us with a collection of small episodes extending from childhood through her teen years. I hate reading memoirs, but decided to read this one to get a better understanding of Paula Fox the Novelist. Nothing much pleasant transpired during these years; the brief incidents that we hear about are, perhaps, the only ones she feels at ease telling.
Her parents simply didn't want to raise her. Father was a screenwriter, and mother was offended by a daughter who disrupted her life by being born. Both were heavy drinkers. Ms Fox's father seemed to have some affection for her, while the mother reacted to Paula as if someone had let some mangy, un-housebroken dog into the room. Young Paula was sent to live with a variety of people during her life, and she never knew how long she would spend with any of her caretakers. For some time she was taken by her grandmother to her great grandmother's Cuban plantation where she was left totally on her own. She got up, went to school, came home, talked to some of the servants and went to bed without any contact with the grandparents.
It was a sad life for a child, but Ms Fox grew up, married, and wrote 21 children's books and her excellent novels. By the way, she is also Courtney Love's grandmother.
Borrowed Finery also provides some insight into the mind behind the characters and themes in her books. My suggestion: read her memoir and her novels.
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Format: Paperback
Hard to take all this in, how Paula Fox not only survived, but in some ways thrived and lived to write a memoir of her wrenching childhood. Her nutso parents (loving but out-od-his-depth father, cold and rejecting mother; both more interested in their own lives than in her) dropped her at an orphanage shortly after her birth in 1923. A series of mostly kindly people passed her on down the line, but of course there were scars.
From the distance of old age, Fox writes with careful prose and elegant understatement about her unimaginably tragic youth.
Beautiful, and very, very sad.
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