Vertigo: A Memoir

Vertigo: A Memoir

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by Louise DeSalvo
     
 

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Born to immigrant parents during World War II and coming of age during the 1950s, DeSalvo finds herself rebelling against a script written by parental and societal expectations. In her revealing family memoir, DeSalvo sifts through painful memories to give voice to all that remained unspoken and unresolved in her life: a mother's psychotic depression, a father's rage

Overview

Born to immigrant parents during World War II and coming of age during the 1950s, DeSalvo finds herself rebelling against a script written by parental and societal expectations. In her revealing family memoir, DeSalvo sifts through painful memories to give voice to all that remained unspoken and unresolved in her life: a mother's psychotic depression, a father's rage and violent rigidity, a sister's early depression and eventual suicide, and emerging memories of childhood incest. At times humorous and often brutally candid, DeSalvo also delves through the more recent conflicts posed by marriage, motherhood, and the crisis that started her on the path of her life's work: becoming a writer in order to excavate the meaning of her life and community.

In Vertigo, Louise DeSalvo paints a striking picture of the easy freedom of the husband and fatherless world of working-class Hoboken, New Jersey, the neighborhood of her early childhood, where mothers and children had an unaccustomed say in the running of their lives while men were off defending their country, but were jolted back into submission when World War II ended. Hoboken was not a place where girls were encouraged to develop their minds, or their independent spirits, yet it is that tenement-dotted city with its pulse and energy, wonderful Italian pastry, and sidewalk roller-skating contests, and not suburban Ridgefield, where the family moves when Louise is seven, that claims Louise’s heart.

Written with an honesty that is as rare as it is unsettling, Vertigo also speaks to broader truths about the impact of ethnicity, class, and gender in American life. Offering inspiration and a healthy dose of subversion, this personal story of a writer’s life is also a study of the alchemy between lived experience and creativity, and the life-transforming possibilities of this process.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
DeSalvo (Conceived with Malice) frankly, and wisely, states that her memories of how she grew from a working-class, Italian American child in Hoboken to become a Virginia Woolf scholar may not be accurate because memory cannot always be trusted. This account, with its emphasis on her early years, is the way it seems to her to have been. Her happiest time, she claims, was during WWII, when the world as she saw it was composed only of women and children (she was only three at the war's end). Then the men returned and life became grim. Later her mother became depressed and was institutionalized, her sister committed suicide, she herself was sexually abused by a female family member. Books and the public library were her refuge. In hindsight she finds parallels between her life and Virginia Woolf's that might escape a casual reader. She also sees them in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, which she saw 11 times in one week when she was 15. A more exuberant period came in suburban Ridgefield, N.J., during what she calls her boy crazy period: "I have, in quick succession, `dated' the entire starting line up of my high school's basketball team... many of its football players, all the baseball infielders, and a few wrestlers." DeSalvo clearly has a sense of humor, and although her success in lifeshe repeatedly stresses the problems of being Italian, working class and a "girl"may not be as unique as she seems to think, her clarity of insight and expression makes this an impressive achievement. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Growing up Italian American in the 1950s and observing the women around her, DeSalvo became keenly aware of the severely limited opportunities available to women generally. Determined not to live a life like her mother's, filled with frustration, depression, and fear, she turned to literature and education for solace and direction. This memoir traces DeSalvo's struggle to become a woman independent in her own right and eventually a professor at Hunter College and author of the biographical study Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her Life and Work (LJ 2/1/90), among other books. DiSalvo conveys her experiences with wit, style, and creativity yet permits the pathos of her life to surface occasionally, for example when she describes her attempts to deal with her mother's death and her sister's suicide. Writing and research provide the focus and stability in her life, relieving an ever-hovering tendency toward depression and illness. Her story will inspire all women faced with making choices in today's dizzying atmosphere.Nancy Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
Carolyn See
"Riveting...astonishing...the writing is terrific." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
From the Publisher

"The writing here is terrific." —Los Angeles Times

"DeSalvo has one of the most refreshing feminist voices around." —San Francisco Chronicle

"One of the pleasures of Vertigo is its continual sense that DeSalvo's own history is as mysterious to her as it might be to us, that she, like her reader, is a stranger in a strange land, a perpetual traveler." —Newsday

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781558617773
Publisher:
Feminist Press at CUNY, The
Publication date:
08/01/2002
Series:
Cross-Cultural Memoir Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
File size:
422 KB

What People are saying about this

Blanche Weisen Cook
"Gripping and compelling....DeSalvo digs deep and has written a profound book of emotional healing."

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Vertigo 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book is really great. Louise is an amazing author, and she is wonderful to hear speak. If you get the chance, go see her. This book gives a different perspective on growing up in an Italian-American family, perhaps even a more realistic one. I have read and re-read the book, and am currently reading it for the third time. Highly reccomended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I began reading 'Vertigo' as an assigned reading requirement for a creative writing class and soon found myself reading far beyond assigned pages, wanted to delve further into the world Louise creates in this wonderful book! I recommend it to everyone. Her writing has changed how I see my own writing, and has become an inspiration to me. It saved me in many ways.