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a triumphant, if challenging, read.
on 19 September 2001
'Tis' holds parallels with 'Sons & Lovers', albeit set in the bustling metropolis of post-war New York as opposed to 19th century Nottinghamshire. The educated elder son of an awkward mother and absent father struggles to find his own identity in a land that displays prejudice against his background and compulsively remarks at 'the Irish brogue'.
The young adult Frankie takes several menial jobs and has to endure providential college students who ride the trains: handsome guys and wholesome girls with perfect teeth and skin and NYU folders flaunting their superiority. A stretch in the army enables Frankie to learn useful administrative skills, and he finally pleads to be allowed to study at NYU, eventually becoming a teacher.
At this point, McCourt's memoirs cease to follow the path of 'Angela's Ashes', and with each progressive chapter the verse loses the lilt and cadence that so coloured the previous work. Writing that was once a joy to read becomes tedious and monotonous: the repetitive references to life back in Limerick and seemingly endless prose leading apparently nowhere. The reader is left confused by Frankie's attitude towards his family and somewhat weary with the dry anecdotes of his time spent teaching dispassionate students.
As with DH Lawrence, however, one can only share McCourt's obvious frustration with his life, particularly the way he feels trapped between the life of a bohemian, listening to jazz and discussing philosophy, and the comfort and security of his wife, child and home. As such, Frankie seldom seems to learn any lessons from his experiences or those of his family. Students, and their fashions, come and go but McCourt treads slowly along, disenchanted and unable to find fulfilment.
Although 'Tis' continues with the life of Frank McCourt a few unanswered questions frustrate throughout, particularly why did it take so long to write 'Angela's Ashes' following the triumphant debut University essay, 'The Bed'? From such an extraordinary life in Limerick to the abject normality of a teacher's lot in New York, the reader can only empathise with the apparent loss of exuberance and vivacity that, despite the unimaginable poverty, 'Angela's Ashes' portrayed.
'Tis' could never match McCourt's Pulitzer Prize winner, but as a reflection of one man's determination and soul searching it still remains a triumphant, if challenging, read.