Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt is Gone

I see Frank McCourt has died. It was only last year that I finally read "Angela's Ashes," his memoir of his childhood in Ireland. I had picked up a copy at a book sale, and soon discovered why it had been such a bestseller.

Since I had grown up in a stable midwestern family in a middle class environment, I couldn't imagine how Frank and his brother Malachy had survived the hunger, lack of even the most basic necessities, and neglect of their early years. I read most of the book alternately gasping in horror and laughing in delight. Perhaps it was that Irish wit that saved them after all.

As a writer I greatly admired McCourt's ability to put the reader squarely in the scene, for instance when the first floor of their house was flooded and stinking with the overflow from the shared toilet so they moved upstairs to their "vacation home" where they heated bits of food over bits of fuel. (And as a writer I shouldn't indulge in such a run-on sentence.) He also remembered that they passed the time telling wonderful stories. His father, when sober, told them fantastic, and totally incorrect but very entertaining, tales of history.

It's almost too much to believe that in the end Frank McCourt was brought down by a skin cancer, even though it was the deadly melanoma. Ah, but I'm sure he would find the humor in it and look forward to a roaring Irish wake. At 78 he was most certainly blessed with long life and the knowledge that from such tragic beginnings he had made something of himself. I hope Malachy won't be too lonely without him.

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