Tuesday, February 8, 2011

'Tis by Frank McCourt

Quite some time ago I reviewed McCourt's first autobiography, Angela's Ashes. 'Tis is the second book which picks up as Frank is sailing from Ireland to America, where he expects to see everyone has a tan and beautiful white teeth, i.e. the Hollywood version. First lesson, New York City and its people don't much resemble his expectations.

He's still poor as a churchmouse of course but he finds a job sweeping the floor and emptying ashtrays in the lobby of the Biltmore, then moves on to a warehouse job on the docks. He rents a place at a rooming house with a strange landlady and her handicapped son. Eventually he talks his way into NYU despite his lack of a high school diploma. Many of my friends will be happy to learn he got in because of his reading habit. He had read classic literature that most American youth would disdain. At length he becomes a teacher, a teacher with a girlfriend no less.

You may remember he had three surviving younger brothers; they all came to this country. His mother finally came here as well and made a career of carping about everything American. The book ends as the McCourt sons and their children take Angela's ashes back to Limerick.

I raved about the first book. I laughed my head off reading parts of it and other parts tore my heart out. Young Frankie's poverty-stricken childhood was terrible. However, I was disappointed in this book. It's written in the same stream-of-consciousness style and he has the same sense of humor, and parts of it made me laugh out loud. The adult Frank McCourt, though, isn't such a sympathetic character. There were times when I wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. I wanted to say, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself and for heaven's sake stay out of Irish bars!" But I must admit McCourt is a good man at heart and he's certainly a better writer than I'll ever be.

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