Happy Family

Happy Family

by Jane Shore
     
 

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Shore, whose previous book, Music Minus One, was a finalist for the National Book Award, here reflects on incidents and domestic tableaux concerning the desperate, comical, elusive, simple, or complicated kinds of happiness indigenous to her 1950s New Jersey neighborhood. At once universal and personal, Shore's poems are uncanny autobiographical duets for

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Overview

Shore, whose previous book, Music Minus One, was a finalist for the National Book Award, here reflects on incidents and domestic tableaux concerning the desperate, comical, elusive, simple, or complicated kinds of happiness indigenous to her 1950s New Jersey neighborhood. At once universal and personal, Shore's poems are uncanny autobiographical duets for past and present, childhood and adulthood, daughter and mother. Like an album of black-and-white photos come to life, Happy Family offers an honest poetry that dignifies memory through detail.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shore continues her exploration of her Jewish heritage, her parents, her difficult middle-class childhood and her later life history in this fourth collection of poems. The adult Shore recalls the young Jane asking a rabbi about Jesus in "The Second Coming"; recalls her aunt Flossie's once-captivating book of dirty jokes in "Over Sexteen"; considers her daughter's dolls in "`American Girls'"; and contrasts her younger and older selves in a complex two-part poem called "Next Day," an answer to Randall Jarrell's poem of that name. As in Shore's previous work, arguments, transitions, phrasings and line breaks frequently seem modeled very closely and accurately on Robert Lowell's Life Studies: Shore, still, wants to adopt for her own autobiographical verse the strained, irregular, anti-heroic forms Lowell invented for his own. The results can be moving or witty; the title poem's Chinese-restaurant dish, a "marriage of meat and fish, crab and chicken," inspires the quip, "Not all Happy Families are alike." Often, though, Shore sounds self-important, or flat: "Even as [Shore's mother] was dying,/ she shut me out, preferring to be alone." After a Catholic babysitter's cigarette ashes blew into the young Shore's eyes, Shore tells us that she cried "tears like burning rain.... Since then, I often confuse revelation and pain." Shore comes across as believable when describing in verse her experiences of growing up, having a child, and growing older; once such self-knowledge and frankness (especially in sexual matters) inspired readers (and accomplished novel political work). But Shore's own generation of poets has made the life passages she describes a regular and plentifully covered field of American poetry; her honesty no longer seems enough. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Happy Family, Shore's fourth collection of poems, solidifies her highly regarded position among contemporary American poets. Her works are composed of the concrete and specific objects that William Carlos Williams espoused as the basis of all poetry nearly a century ago; "The table set; red paper placemats / inscribed with the Chinese zodiac. / My husband's / an ox; my daughter's / a dragon, hungry and cranky; I'm a pig." The result is highly visual and accessible poetry, immediate poems that present a recognizable world full of equally real memories and associations. The first section centers on the memories of childhood. Here Shore is effective in recapturing youth in all its naiveté, struggle and wonder, her personal recollections suggesting the universal experience of growing up. "Mr. Frank spoke in a thick accent / we imitated behind his back. / The rabbi, on the other hand, / was American, like us. / He was onto our tricks." In the second section Shore's role switches to that of wife, lover, parent. "Next Day," the lead poem here, is especially innovative in bridging the two sections. The poem is written in reaction to, and includes the text of, a poem she had written 20 years in her past. If anything, the poems in this section are even more evocative than those in the first half. "Shocked, I hear my dead mother say, / 'George, are you sure the tape recorder's / working?' And my father answers, 'I'm sure.'... and here they are / arguing in my bedroom, in the house / my mother never set foot in. / My daughter's eyes shine with laughter; / mine with tears." These poems are strong and universal. They appeal to a wide spectrum of readers in their content and they are finelycrafted. This is a good addition for most libraries. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, St. Martin's/Picador, 84p, 21cm, 99-29860, $12.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: James Beschta; English Teacher, Quabbin Reg. H.S., Barre, MA, March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Shore (Music Minus One), winner of the Lamont and Juniper poetry prizes for earlier books, presents poems of family life, including several describing her own childhood as a dressmaker's daughter. Shore's strengths are fine storytelling and an eye for detail, as in "The Best-Dressed Girl in School": "I'd climb on a stool/ so I could better see/ my mother tease a woman's arm/ into a silk sleeve of a blouse." Although many of these poems celebrate the domestic, Shore does not flinch from painful topics. "Mrs. Hitler" describes a girl who creates a game of Auschwitz survival from cheese, crackers, a plate, and the whispered innuendo of relatives. Shore's poems have a directness and emotional intensity that will draw the reader, but at times they are too rooted in everyday language--one longs for more lyricism. She uses metaphor too sparingly, even though she is gifted at it, as in the title poem: "I unpacked the food,/ unsheathed the wooden chopsticks--/ Siamese twins joined at the shoulders." Recommended for both public and academic libraries.--Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312263348
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
10/06/2000
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.26(d)

Meet the Author

Jane Shore is the author of Music Minus One, a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and the other award-winning collections The Minute Hand and Eye Level. She lives in Washington, D.C., and Vermont with her husband, the novelist Howard Norman, and their daughter, Emma.

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