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Pull Me Up: A Memoir Hardcover – May, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Although Barry is the New York Times's "About New York" columnist, his memoir isn't the story of his award-winning journalism career. More like Pete Hamill or Frank McCourt, Barry wants to recount growing up Irish and Catholic on Long Island in the late 1950s and '60s. "Pull me up" was his mom's morphine-soaked plea as she lay dying of lung cancer on the living room sofa-and what a shock it was that his mother was the first to go, as his father had suffered through paralyzing cluster migraines for 20 years. Barry takes readers back to what he calls the Eisenhower years, when gas stations handed out "plaid stamps," women's perms had a distinct "chemical whiff" and delis made potato salad loaded with bacon. He lovingly details seasoning his baseball mitt, oiling, binding and hiding it under his mattress. He relives his Catholic school upbringing, complete with hazing from upperclassmen and pedophilic assaults from Brother Noel, but also those wonderful teachers who helped him realize his calling as a writer. After college came various jobs and romances, even marriage and adopting a baby, all of which is very entertaining, but is horribly interrupted six months after Barry's mother dies, when he finds himself diagnosed, at age 41, with cancer. Perhaps anyone's struggle to survive a deadly illness transforms their life; as Barry puts it, he knew "what it was like to nearly drown," and then felt the "sting of a saltwater blessing" on his face. This is a beautiful book.
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You won't soon forget this book...you'll rejoice in Dan Barry's prose that flashes with poetry. -- Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes
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I was some surprised last year when a mututal friend said Dan had sold his memoirs; I figured Dan was neither old, nor accomplished, nor novel enough to write a good book about his life.
I was wrong.
Dan has writen a book that will appeal to many audiences. Journalists will like this book for it is a paean to small town newspapering; baby boomers will like the book for its evocative power to summon an era, our era; Irish Americans will nod knowingly as they read Pull Me Up, as will anyone ever enrolled in a Catholic school; infertile couples will feel a pathos in this book, and draw sustenance from it; people who have, or know someone who has, cancer will find in this book hope.
Anyone who likes to read and has lived will like Pull Me Up. Sentence by sentence the writing is first rate. I have one structural critcism that would improve the book, but this small flaw does not prevent me from bestowing the highest ranking: I would have omitted the epilogue and changed the verb tenses in the last, short chapter to present tense so that the book would end on the sentence: This is good.
Pull Me Up, A Memoir is Barry's masterful landscape of his life and family, wondrously painted with words poignant with pain and breathtaking in beauty. Never mind that the setting is the same Long Island I grew up in, nor the fact that this Irish-American love song calls to my own heritage, nor even the fact that there are personal connections I can trace to many of the people and places he writes about. The soul of Barry's story is its firm grip on universal human fears and foibles, how he captures the heart-piercing trials of childhood, youth, illness, addiction, and family.
Any reader who ever felt alone or insecure as a teenager, grew up with a sick parent, or whose family struggled with monthly bills will cherish the emotional depths to which Barry dives to harvest the treasures of his past. A truly rewarding read.
This one did. Perhaps it's my own connection to growing up in the same era, though I'm a bit younger. Maybe it's because we're both journalists, though books by journalists don't always merit reading sprints.
For me I think what astounded me was Barry's ability to be honest, allowing us to see the weaknesses of the people in the book and see those people as human, rather than evil (with a couple exceptions). As a reporter Barry has seen some amazing things, but that's not the focus of his book. Those things are sidelights in a story about family and about growing up. That takes amazing skill. I'm glad Barry lived long enough to tell us about it. In another 40 years or so, I'll be excited to read the sequel.
effortlessly from the pen of the master. Dan Barry writes honestly and with such beauty you revel in the triumphs of life and feel the stronger and the better for it.