With courage and lyricism, Nekola probes behind the happy facade of her 1950s family. The meditative vignettes form a poignant mosaic, though Nekola--now a poet and professor at William Paterson College in New Jersey--puts off describing herself for too long. The author's college-educated mother never wrote the book she wanted to; instead she compiled recipes with commentary in which ``she kept a running conversation with herself about success and failure.'' Still, the author believes her mother briefly subverted the prevailing ethos to nudge her daughter to independence. Her father, denied a college education by the Depression, was nothing like the ``TV fantasy of physically available, emotionally tuned-in fathers in the 1950s.'' Her sister, following a rollercoaster ride of manic depression, petty crime and rootlessness, died young and caused Nekola to observe that ``none of this holding on . . . guarantees anything at all.'' Trying to introduce some reliability into the wounded lives of her niece and nephew, Nekola muses, ``I want to be that solid thing that I cannot be quite yet.'' Through her prose, she has begun that reconstruction. (Jan.)
Growing up in the 1950s in St. Louis, Nekola saw Grandmother Estella's house as a place of intrigue, stability, and comfort and her own house as ordinary. She saw Father as King and Mother as ``the aproned person who went with the little brick house.'' In retrospect, Nekola sees a father who preferred travel and martinis above all else, a mother who died from cancer in mid-life with unrealized desires and dreams, and a sister who died at 46 from chronic alcoholism after 16 years of manic depression. In telling this story of her family, Nekola, a poet and coeditor of Writing Red: An Anthology of American Women Writers, 1930-1940 (Feminist Pr., 1987), attempts to come to terms with her own life. She does not tell a happily-ever-after story about her middle-class family but a tale about a family connected by blood and magical moments and disconnected by misfortune. Everyone has stories to tell about family and coming to grips with life, but it takes skill and courage to pen a well-written story as honest and revealing as this one. Recommended for all libraries.-- Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, N.J.
Nekola not only hands over her life in this memoir, she dissects her experience and its effects. Her portraits of her maternal grandmother, two maiden aunts, and an orphaned uncle, who all lived together; her traveling, drinking businessman father and unfulfilled-housewife mother; and the older brother and sister who first guided her, then got lost themselves, are powerful because they are honest and generous. Moreover, even when her conclusions about them are not flattering, she always gives them the benefit of the doubt. In addition to her family, she analyzes the times: for example, she explains that she now can see the hints about being careful about what you choose in life that her mother sprinkled into their typical suburban 1950s life. Now, too, she sees the love in these hints, yet acknowledges that "it was the refrain of regret, of the undone, of inarticulate desire that seemed to take a little air out of the popovers, that toughened the roast a bit." Nekola's family story is everything a family story should be.