I almost never read memoirs, they just aren't that interesting to me. But for some reason this one caught my eye and I decided to give it twenty pages or so. Those twenty pages didn't grip me, but they were enough to make me give it another twenty pages, and on in that vein until I was halfway through the book. MacDonald's previous book (All Souls) was apparently all about the hard life growing up in Boston's Irish-Catholic "Southie" neighborhood (as seen in movies such as The Departed, Mystic River, Boondock Saints, Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone, and many more). I didn't read that book, but now that I've read this, it's hard to imagine what it would contain that's not in this one. MacDonald writes well in his own voice, as he describes how he "got out" of the cycle of poverty, drugs, crime, etc. that doomed so many of his siblings and friends. What freed him from all that was discovering underground music, specifically the punk scene that was just bubbling up in the late 1970s on the heels of English punk. The discovery of a whole new world and a whole different way of thinking liberated him and took him on a completely different life path from that which killed four of his brothers. To a much less dramatic extent, I had the same experience with punk music, and I suppose that link to my own adolescence is what kept me reading. The other elements of the book (various family tragedies, trips to Ireland to connect with his ancestors, etc.) are all well-written, but just not that interesting to me, although I expect readers who like memoirs will find them much more compelling. There are also some somewhat awkward jumps in time, and elisions of his life story which make the overall framework a bit choppy. On the whole, I still can't decide if I'm glad I read it or not -- I fell neither richer or poorer for the hours spent, but I suspect that has more to do with me than the book. If you like memoirs and have an interest in Boston, or punk rock, or people's struggle to escape their circumstances, give it a chance.
on 13 October 2014
In the follow up to his successful and riveting memoir, All Souls, MacDonald takes us along for another ride—this time through his teen years in the Irish ghetto of Boston’s Southie. He says he wrote this in response to the readers of his first book who only wanted to know how he’d got himself out of what can only be described as a desperate (and seemingly impossible to escape) childhood. MacDonald was the third youngest of seven kids, raised by the singular ‘Ma’ and when we catch up with him in this installment is just discovering the punk scene of the early seventies. His exploits into the underground scene are fascinating and hysterical (his run ins with Johnny Rotten and Siouxsie Suh are jaw-dropping). MacDonald has a knack for creating atmosphere—his descriptions of his brief foray into the drug culture of New York fortified my resolve to stay away from hard drugs. Neither sentimental nor sensationalistic, his story is one of truth and hope and all the incarnations a person has to go through before finding their real self. (It’s also about some really kick-booty music.)