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Who Do You Think You Are?: A Memoir Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 6, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Myers (v-p, brand programs for the New York Times) considered herself a daddy's girl, until the death of her father when she was only 11 left her particularly lonely. In this dark though moving book, she explains that she never told her two younger sisters of her loneliness and found her mother's unpredictable cruelty truly bewildering. Although this was a working-class Jewish family in Queens in the 1960s and '70s, it wasn't the sort featured in storybooks. Her parents chain-smoked and fought endlessly, slinging curses at each other without a thought of their children listening. Alyse got herself into a gifted high school in Manhattan, found herself part-time jobs and enrolled in an affordable city college. It was only after she married and had a child herself that she started to understand her father had been a philanderer and her mother used morphine to cope. The greatest gift she gave her daughter was the determination to create a different sort of life for herself. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Bad parenting has prompted many a memoir; Myers’ is the latest. The eldest of three daughters, Myers was the one labeled by her beautiful, blue-eyed mother as the most likely to give her grief. The lament was largely unjustified. Myers was a smart, studious kid whose greatest crimes were her unconditional love for her father (a charmer and cad who disappeared without warning for long periods of time) and a persistent insistence that her mother should better her lackluster life. Myers’ mother hit her with a strap, and once, when Myers was 13, threw her out of their Queens apartment and told her never to come back. (The teen stayed at a neighbor’s down the hall; upon her return, her mother didn’t seem to care where she’d been.) After her mother’s death, Myers gains possession of a mysterious wooden box her mother had forbidden her to open. She hopes its contents will help explain her mother’s mean spirit and malaise. Myers, an executive at the New York Times, conveys a chilling childhood in crisp, candid prose. --Allison Block --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Plusses: It's a quick read and an intriguing one. Alyse begins the story just after her mother's death, as she sneaks past her sisters in their mother's apartment in Queensview (the co-op next to Ravenswood) to get a mysterious box hidden away in her mother's bedroom closet. This triggers memories of growing up in a troubled household. Much of it reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: lovable-yet-irresponsible father who can disappear for days or weeks on end, a cold-fish, sharp-tongued, overly critical mother, and very little respect between the parents--yes, and the dad's death while the kids are still young. The mother, who smokes and smokes on end, is horribly abusive: complaining to the dad why he moved them into this "sh**hole", cursing a lot, but rushing literally to wash Alyse's mouth out with soap when the young girl casually repeats one of her mother's frequent curses. The mother also throws the underage girl out of the house twice, one time on little provocation. At times I wanted to drag this woman out of her grave and beat her with a belt.
Minuses: the author doesn't describe the places as well as she could, although sometimes she provides detailed descriptions. But worse, she doesn't use names at all: not her own, nor her mother's, father's, or sisters', not her schools or her synagogue, not Ravenswood or Queensview, although she does name Twenty-First Street. If not for the Facebook page, when she described a housing project in Long Island City, Queens, not far from the 59th Street Bridge, I would have been wondering whether she meant Ravenswood or Queensbridge. If she wanted not to pinpoint her family with accurate names, couldn't she have used pseudonyms?
At any rate, Alyse does a good job of describing the relations among the families, as well as her own process of growing up, acquiring a love for reading, writing, and Manhattan. Touches of pop culture, like favorite songs and TV shows, trigger my own memories of growing up in the 1960s. I also like that acquiring a husband and then a daughter of her own helped her to see her parents' situation in a somewhat different light.
She describes her Ravenswood apartment as across the street from where the garbage trucks were kept and where a big chimney blew soot all over. My apartment building was across the street from a church with chiming bells--so her unpleasant location would contribute to her hatred of the place. I suppose I could identify with her; I'm also sensitive and somewhat reclusive (often I chose to watch TV rather than play outside), and I'm also a writer.
I intend to pass this book along to other members of my family, and see how Alyse's recollection of her family and her neighborhood compares to their own.
Nevertheless, the daughter makes a strong case for herself. Her life certainly wasn't a picnic and the fact that she forgives her mom and goes on to have a loving relationship with her and allows her mom to enjoy a wonderful relationship with her granddaughter is nothing short of remarkable. I read this book in one sitting--there were no boring moments. As I haven't had smooth sailing in my relationships with my mother or with my daughter I found myself relating to this mother-daughter relationship very well. It's a very touching book, and I thank the author for writing about her journey with her mom.
There were worse mothers out there, sure. But this author was writing about HER mother and what it felt like to be in her family and how it affected her. It was still interesting to me. I am interested in all kinds of stories, not just horror stories. I guess it's just me.
It's a miracle that Alyse Myers survived her hellish nightmare of a childhood. It's a greater miracle that she has a thriving career and her own loving family. How did she do it?
Her salvation was an enormously supportive grandfather who told her, "You're special. You're going to do great things when you grow up." He advised her to save her money, and she did. She escaped into books and the NEW YORK TIMES. School and her red diary were her safe havens. She worked relentlessly to achieve her goals.
I am profoundly grateful that Ms. Myers had the courage to candidly speak the truth about her childhood and how she prevailed in despite the odds. Her story was so compelling that I couldn't put the book down. The triumph of her spirit is so powerful that I cried when I finished the book. Bravo!
Most recent customer reviews
it's amazing how other's stories can open your eyes to see more clearly your own.
again, thank you.