- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleBarnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
There are times in everyone's life when they need a hand; we all face difficult moments when we reach out to family, friends, or loved ones for support. For Bob Smith, a boy growing up in trying circumstances in Stratford, Connecticut, in the 1940s and '50s, the hand was William Shakespeare's. The legendary playwright (who toiled in a different Stratford entirely) and his plays became a support system for Bob, who -- in addition to the usual obstacles faced by youngsters -- felt somehow responsible for his beloved younger sister Carolyn's mental retardation. Now in his 60s, Smith looks back on his life in Hamlet's Dresser, one of the most beautifully written and unforgettable memoirs in some time.
Smith takes the reader through a variety of different periods in his life: his youth, as his overmatched parents try to deal with their beautiful yet frustratingly difficult daughter (with Carolyn unable to control her bodily functions, brother Bob assumes responsibility as full-time caregiver, despite his youth); adolescence, as Bob's love of Shakespeare's plays leads to a dream job as costume dresser to actors performing with the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford; and the present-day Bob, who spends his time selflessly teaching elderly students to enjoy "the Shakespeare." All of it is presented in a beautifully evocative manner.
But it is Smith's writing about his intense -- and troubled -- relationship with Carolyn that makes the book so emotionally powerful. It's difficult to really understand how hard it must have been for a boy to take care of someone so mentally challenged that she, at one point, literally spent years standing next to the family's refrigerator, unwilling to move or go to sleep. But Bob loves Carolyn, so he does what he can. When it's time for him to leave home to start his own life, a difficult decision must be made about Carolyn's future, and the reader will be riveted to the page.
When he needed help, Bob Smith was, essentially, saved by Shakespeare. It's not hard to imagine that the readers of Hamlet's Dresser might find a savior of sorts in Bob Smith. (Nicholas Sinisi)
From Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Bob Smith's unforgettable memoir reads like a novel. His story slips gracefully through time, moving from his lonely childhood with a severely retarded sister, through an adolescence spent acquiring what would become a lifelong love of Shakespeare, to his present, as a man finding himself through his work with the elderly.
In a disheartening childhood with a distant father and a clingy, terrified mother, Smith vows never to leave his lovely, uncomprehending sister. For years, he is both her caretaker and her companion, until the need to live his own life becomes a pull too strong to resist. Slowly, Smith drifts away from his family and into a theatrical world inhabited by actors and extras who, like him, are sustained by the wonder of language. But when he finally leaves his sister for good, Smith experiences an emptiness that he finds mirrored in the Shakespearean tragedies, a melancholy that continues to haunt him. Ultimately, it is through sharing his passion for Shakespeare with others that Smith begins to find healing and redemption.
For all of its darkness, Hamlet's Dresser is a story imbued with hope. Smith shares priceless memories of some of Hollywood's grandest luminaries, as well as moments of heartbreaking beauty and clarity among the "old people" who have touched his soul. Perhaps, with the telling of his story, Bob Smith will finally "get to be the happy kid [he] never was." (Summer 2002 Selection)