Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review of 'Tis by Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt is a writer and teacher.  In Ireland, he spent his childhood in poverty.  In the dark lanes of Limerick, he and his family suffered through starvation and disease.  He watched several siblings die.  Then, as a teenager, the woman he was working for died and he stole money from her purse.  The money paid his fare across the Atlantic to New York on a freighter.

This was the subject of McCourt's earlier memoir, Angela's Ashes.  The next chapter of his life, 'Tis, picks up where Angela's Ashes left off: the freighter crossing the Atlantic, and spans the next forty years of his life.  It follows his life as he cleans ashtrays at the Biltmore hotel, joins the army, unloads ships and struggles to become a teacher despite his poor education.  His amusing descriptions of his trials and the odd characters he meets form the basis of his memoir. 

The book truly allows you to live inside Frank McCourt's insecure skin and experience the life of an Irish immigrant in New York.  It has laughs and groans of embarrassment.  That he has bettered himself and lived a remarkable life I cannot deny.  My life is undeniably better for having read his story.  Yet I have to say that when I think of this book, I feel a little cold. 

Maybe it's just the ordering of events that bothers me.  I'm not sure what 'Tis is about.  Is it about the triumph of an immigrant in America?  Is it about a son who cannot remove himself from the shadow of his alcoholic father?  Is it about learning how to teach?  Is it about all of them and I'm an idiot for trying to force a moral or theme on this remarkable life?

Also, the book suffers from a lack of quotation marks.  I hate that.  I like knowing for sure when somebody is talking. 

If you've read Angela's Ashes or watched the movie, this book will have appeal as you get to explore Frank McCourt's life further.  Teachers and historians will also get a kick out of it.  For me, it had great parts.  Many great parts.  The sum of its parts is multiplied by a figure I don't understand.
3 1/2 cringing face-palms out of 5