Closing Time: A Memoir

( 13 )

Overview

Over the past two decades, Joe Queenan has established himself as a scourge of everything that is half-baked, half-witted, and halfhearted in American culture. In Closing Time, Queenan turns his sights on a more serious and a more personal topic: his childhood in a Philadelphia housing project in the early 1960s. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Closing Time recounts Queenan's Irish Catholic upbringing in a family dominated by his erratic, alcoholic father, and his long flight away from the dismal confines ...

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Closing Time: A Memoir

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Overview

Over the past two decades, Joe Queenan has established himself as a scourge of everything that is half-baked, half-witted, and halfhearted in American culture. In Closing Time, Queenan turns his sights on a more serious and a more personal topic: his childhood in a Philadelphia housing project in the early 1960s. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Closing Time recounts Queenan's Irish Catholic upbringing in a family dominated by his erratic, alcoholic father, and his long flight away from the dismal confines of his neighborhood into the great, wide world. A story of salvation and escape, this unforgettable account of the damage done to children by parents without prospects, and of the grace and determination those children find to rise above their circumstances, has at its heart the makings of a classic American autobiography.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
[Queenan's] childhood and adolescence were tough, at times brutally so, yet there isn't a whisper of whine here, only a determination to face the truth as squarely as he can and to describe it without self-pity or sentimentality…It is a fine piece of work in every respect: self-exploratory but never self-absorbed, painful and funny, affectingly open in the gratitude it expresses to father figures without whom "I would have been sucked into the void." By contrast with the post-adolescent drivel that is the daily bread of the Age of Memoir, Closing Time is by a grownup, for grownups.
—The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
As the book progresses…Mr. Queenan gradually finds a more nuanced voice, capable of expressing not just fury and condescension but also humor, irony and melancholy. His tortured relationship with his father slowly gains in depth and chiaroscuro, and his portraits of friends, relatives and teachers evolve into Dickensian character studies even as they immerse us in the gritty Philadelphia neighborhoods he knew as a boy.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Humorist and pop culture writer Queenan (Queenan Country) turns the mirror on himself in this somber and funny memoir about life with father in the projects of Philadelphia. Queenan closes the chapter on his life with a verbally and physically abusive alcoholic father. Queenan's father was a pugnacious drunk who declaimed passages from great literature and often chatted loudly late at night with God. Early in the memoir, Queenan expresses the searingly honest sentiment that becomes the refrain of the book: "I never forgave my father for the way he treated us." Queenan spent most of his life trying to get away from this father; he found refuge in the public library, and for at least a year ran off to a seminary with the intention of joining the priesthood. After his father's death, as he was casting about for some way to put a spin on their relationship, Queenan recalls that acting as a stenographer for his father-who in his drunken rages would reel off letters to the editor about various social injustices-was the moment when the thought of making a living as a writer first entered his head. Unsentimental and brutally honest, Queenan's memoir captures the pathos of growing up in a difficult family and somehow getting beyond it. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Journalist and humorist Queenan's (Queenan Country) touching and funny memoir begins by focusing on his childhood in a Philadelphia housing project in the early 1960s. He grew up with an alcoholic, abusive father, whose destructive behavior prompted the author to be different from his father and find a better life for himself elsewhere. What gave him hope when he was young was the Catholic Church, the affection of his relatives, and the local public library. Queenan discovers his path out through perseverance and inspirational father figures. At an early age, he embraces his great love of books and music and considers a career in the seminary. Queenan's early memories of typing up his father's drunken rants on social issues so his father could send them to newspaper editors lead him to try a writing career after his father's death. This honest memoir is a great read and will captivate readers who have dealt with family tragedies. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Susan McClellan

Kirkus Reviews
The waggish blue-collar Philly scribe (Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country, 2004, etc.) ornaments his tough-childhood memoir with the sort of fancy writing natural to authors of Hibernian extraction. The Queenan family, never in the chips, had a hardscrabble life in the scruffy Irish-American precincts of the City of Brotherly Love. Love was scant. Mom was a terrible cook, and Father was a terrible drunk. The youngster's life was one of ongoing deprivation and off-brand merchandise in various tatterdemalion parishes. Queenan and his sisters couldn't wait to vacate their hostile family encampments on the wrong side of the Schuylkill River. At 13, the besieged lad believed he had an ecclesiastical vocation, but after one year at Maryknoll Junior Seminary he abandoned the cloth. So it was on to Catholic high school, then a Catholic college. He found surrogate fathers, first in a colorful dry-goods merchant who ran a kind of urban emporium, replete with picaresque clientele, next in an oddball apothecary. Further forming his persona were various part-time jobs, including the midnight shift at a bubblegum mill. Scrambling out of the proletariat, Queenan discovered art, music and Paris. He became a man of letters, but even after he achieved his dream ("to make a living by ridiculing people") he was still haunted by a lifelong enemy-his father. Queenan pere, his son recounts, was brutal and mean, no credit to any 12-step program. The text, mostly credible, is naturally infused with the Celtic gift of gab, garnished with grand displays of highfalutin lexicon. Loquacious and rococo, it is populated by congresses of poltroons and excoriates many mangynincompoops. Evidently Queenan resorts to his venerable thesaurus in an attempt to channel that heathen Mencken's lexical cantrips. Fortunately, the adverbial and adjectival antics work, and the flashes of characteristic caustic wit are accompanied by some truly sweet spots. Close to home and heart, this portrait of the artist shows Queenan at the top of his form-his best yet.
From the Publisher
"An ambitious memoir.... Optimally engrossing, thanks to Queenan's gift for storytelling and acidic humor." —-The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Barnes & Noble Review
Joe Queenan has forged a literary career out of caustic eviscerations of everything from baby boomers (Balsamic Dreams) to those tea drinkers across the Atlantic pond (Queenan Country). He eats acid and vitriol for breakfast. This, after all, is the man who once called Meryl Streep a "monotonously talented humanoid." So it might come as a surprise that he has peeled away some of his tough hide to try his hand at a tender memoir about growing up in Philadelphia. Closing Time is, by turns, brutally honest, brutally funny, and, yes, filled with scathing attacks on the unworthy. This time, Queenan targets his father, an alcoholic ne'er-do-well whose inability to hold a steady job kept the family hovering near the poverty line for years. Queenan Senior -- "a miserable, deranged, booze-soaked failure" -- was also fond of whipping his four children with the buckle end of a belt. "He beat us often and he beat us savagely," Queenan writes. Not quite an American Angela's Ashes, Queenan's memoir nonetheless takes the reader on a sentimental journey through Philly housing projects, his Catholic school years, an eventual escape into the comfort of literature, and a late-in-life reckoning with his dying father. One flaw with Closing Time -- and it's a relatively minor one -- is that because sarcasm is inevitably laced with exaggeration, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between truth and hyperbole. Some of Queenan's funniest lines are balanced against the harsh realities of his circumstances: "Back in the Paleocene 1950s, when being fond of one's children had not yet come into vogue, poor people didn't seem to mind all that much if one of their offspring went flying out into traffic, as everyone had spares." When he's not tossing off punchlines, Queenan takes a sober look at what it means to grow up as a have-not: "Poverty is a tumor it takes a lifetime to excise, because poverty is lodged deep inside the brain in a dark corner where the once-poor don't want to look." Closing Time probes that shadowy nook of Queenan's past, and the result is a book that's as sad as it is funny. --David Abrams
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143116684
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 776,936
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Joe Queenan is the author of nine books, including Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler and If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble, as well as a regular contributor to the New York Times.

Johnny Heller has narrated some five hundred books and garnered a bunch of swell awards and accolades, including Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Awards, Audie Awards and nominations, AudioFile Earphones Awards, and selection as one of AudioFile magazine's Top 50 Narrators of the 20th Century.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Man on the Roof 1

Chapter 2 Sin City 20

Chapter 3 The Predicament 51

Chapter 4 Domine, Non Sum Dignus 83

Chapter 5 Semper Fidelis 106

Chapter 6 The Parting of the Reed Sea 152

Chapter 7 Twilight of the Apothecaries 185

Chapter 8 C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre 213

Chapter 9 Second Fiddle 235

Chapter 10 Management Potential 249

Chapter 11 Walkabout 284

Chapter 12 Closing Time 315

Epilogue 334

Acknowledgments 339

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 14 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 24, 2009

    Not what I expected

    I loved previous books by Joe Queenan, so I eagerly sent for this one. Unless you want to read what amounts to a diatribe about his drunken father and the hard life of the Philly kid, with precious little good to say about anyone or anything -- forego this book. I struggled to get through the first hundred pages and only finished it because I hate not reading all of any book I buy. And it would be less offfensive if he didn't revert to the use of blatantly esoteric SAT words so frequently. We know he's inhtelligent, he doesn't have to try to demonstrate it repeatedly. Now we also know he is bitter and given to endless blaming.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Must Read - at Least for Irish Catholics

    Joe Queenan and I are nearly the same age and we both were reared in Catholic families that took very seriously all that the priests and nuns told us. After that, there is almost no resemblance between our families. Still, the story of his growing up with an alcoholic father, and the details of daily life for east coast catholics are so accurate that reading the book was a feast of recollection. (A sister of mine felt much the same way). I couldn't put this book down. If a book that includes both Tarcisius the martyr and a denunciation of the 60s invention, the folk mass, sounds like a must read to you, read thus one.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 23, 2009

    Painful, but truthful

    This is not a happy book, but it is truthful. Joe Queenan captures the images and feelings of childhood, and how we can grow up to overcome all the crap we go through, or get taken down by it. I found it a very satifying read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2009

    Keep it simple!

    The overuse of elaborate vocabulary was highly distracting from a touching and compelling family drama. I kept reading for the story, in spite of the $10 words, which were wasted of this reader.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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