American Girl: Scenes from a Small-Town Childhood

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For Cantwell, a New York Times editorial board member, 1930s Bristol, R.I., was such a charmed setting to grow up inplease, don't take such liberties in rewriting, when you haven't read the that her chronic case of ``Bristol Complaint''--inability to leave the coastal town behind--is contagious. A serene, evocative writer, she makes readers tenants of 232 Hope St., which houses three generations of her family: father Leo, production manager at the rubber plant; mother Mary, onetime third-grade teacher; younger sister Diana; good pal seems awk to describe woman as `buddy'?/i've changed it to pal, but confidante is totally out of keeping with tone of book. gs Aunt Esther; Ganny, a model of rectitude even if she lays an occasional bet with her bookie; and Gampa, who is unfailingly content ``because he wants no more at this moment.'' Rarely do the rich summer folk or the Italian and Portuguese immigrants intrude on this snug world as family members make their way among the Friday-night after-movie crowd at the soda fountain of Buffington's Drugstore or spend an afternoon at the Bluebird Shoppe for Ganny's corset fitting. Cantwell's account of such a childhood is a bit Booth Tarkingtonish, but readers weary of anguished coming-of-age memoirs will feel refreshed. (June)
Library Journal
For women of a certain age, Cantwell's book is a trip down memory lane. Cantwell, now a member of the editorial board of the New York Times , recounts her days in the small town of Bristol, Rhode Island, a place where she knew everyone and everyone knew her. Cantwell sees her subjects clearsightedly, but with affection. She remembers teachers, storekeepers, the rich summer people, and the Portuguese kids from Back Road. Her chapters are filled with detail: the smell of the sea, the feel of her grandmothers' stiff corset, the glimpse of her father's watch chain across his stout stomach. Like Susan Allen Toth in her memoir of small-town life in the 1950s ( Blooming , LJ 4/1/81), Cantwell evokes a time when life was simpler and slower and some things about growing up were easier. It is a time that has gone forever, but one that many people remember with nostalgia. Recommended.-- Rebecca Wondriska, Trinity Coll. Lib., Hartford, Ct.
School Library Journal
YA-- Cantwell's deep affection for the coastal Rhode Island town of her girlhood in the '40s and '50s does not hinder her from recording with detailed detachment every nuance of societal strata as well as homey tradition. The surprise is that readers, too, will be become enchanted with the minutia of memory in this lively chronicle of local parades, school dances, picnics, and first love. The author wryly describes the snobbery of the WASP upper class, the clannishness of the immigrant workers, and the self-righteousness of middle-class Catholics. The current nostalgic notion regarding family values permeates the entire memoir, for Cantwell grew up in a three-generational home in which she received unconditional love and the assurance that there was nothing she could not accomplish if she so desired. Students of social history will find much to mine here.-- Jackie Gropman, Richard Byrd Library, Springfield, VA
Kirkus Reviews
From New York Times editorial-board member and veteran columnist Cantwell, a memoir of growing up during the 1930's and 40's in the town of Bristol, New Hampshire. "I have come down with the Bristol Complaint," Cantwell announces early in the book: "People who have the Bristol Complaint can never leave town. The elm trees snag them. So does the harbor and the wild roses and the history." Cantwell does, of course, manage to leave town, but the town remains inside her, and, here, she brings it to her readers all the way back from its history of colonial immigrants and traders, of General LaFayette (who once camped there, but left when winter set in) and of "Philip, King of the Wampanoags" (the bones of whose people lie under the ground)—and on through the lives of her beloved grandparents, known as Ganny and Gampy (she still believes Gampy was once a bootlegger); of her own parents, Leo Cantwell and Mary Lonergan; and thus to the birth and growing up of Mary Lee Cantwell and her younger sister, Diana. Seldom have a town and its memoirist been more perfectly blended than they are here ("It was as if Bristol were a book I couldn't put down," says the author), and in her subtle and delicately told tales of being a young child, of getting polio, of remembering WW II, of learning the stark cruelties of social class, of struggling into adolescence, of finally graduating from high school and getting ready to leave home—in all of these, Cantwell embraces sentiment without ever becoming sentimental, and makes her words fall into place with a quiet perfection. "If I don't get out of Bristol it will always be three o'clock in the afternoon," she says; and yet, even so, amid much, muchmore, she remembers for us a long-ago afternoon with her high-school girlfriends when "we walked through air that was as silver as the bay." Evocative, lovely, deeply felt, and mature personal writing about a past that's gone.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140179224
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/10/1993
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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