My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This memoir picks up from where Angela’s Ashes ends with young Frank arriving back in America at the age of 18. It takes him all the way through to the death of his parents and the spreading of Angela’s Ashes back in her native Ireland.
This book is not as much of a downer as the first as Frank has finally removed himself from the truly bone chilling poverty & misery of Limerick. However, there is a repetitive theme as he takes over the role of the adult who truly cannot seem to get his head out of own ass. In the first book, that was his father, and sadly, young Frankie did not learn the lesson. Rather than rejecting that pattern, he repeats it. Not quite as badly of course. His wallowing in self pity & constant paranoia (his classmate sure nailed that) about what everyone thinks of him drives him to drink more than he should for sure. He risks his relationships over it. He loses one girlfriend and then nearly loses his eventual wife. She is, at least, the only one who tries to get the message across to him that his misery is not unique, but other than him retelling the tale, you never get the idea that HE gets it. He has flashes of gumption though. He successfully fights off urges to chuck his education (thanks to the GI bill) and finishes school to become a teacher. Then he fights off the urge to walk away from that career. You do get a hint of an idea that he must have been a rather inspiring teacher. I imagine many of his students looked to him as a great mentor. However, since he truly reflects someone with not an ounce of self worth in his writing, he does not brag in any way about his teaching success. Even late in his career, he writes from the eyes of someone still so overly self critical of what he is doing and how his students view him that you really do wonder how he got out of bed every day!
Frank McCourt was a complex, sad soul. He certainly loved learning & was a very good writer. I love the way he laments that everyone had to be “from” somewhere and had to self identify with their ethnicity. He seemed ahead of his time in that respect & he so longed to just be an American & not be saddled with the labels & expectations of being an Irish-Catholic. But it also struck ME that while he wrote just around the edges of breaking through his history – he refers often to a ‘darkness at the edge of my brain’ – he never does get there. At least, if he did, he never wrote about it.