There are certain books for which the first word of its review you don’t dare write, for fear of not being able to live up to the impression it has had on you. You feel like you would have to use big words, those you can only come up with the help of a Thesaurus. Your descriptions and thoughts ought to be blooming like flowers in the middle of a cold snowy winter, unexpectedly warming the heart of the few readers and visitors you will have. And then you realize, this is not what the author is about at all. It’s exactly the opposite.
Frank McCourt’s style is about exposing the truth and reality as it is, without adornment or unnecessary descriptions, to the point that it may feel void of emotions at certain times. At the end of the day, what can you say but that ‘it is’? It is life, it is how things are, no matter how hard you may try, there are certain things that can’t change. And what else can you do but nod along and accept them? In a word, ’tis.
It is reality that teachers skip classes to complain about the desolate state of American education at a pub, it is so that you’re never ‘just American’ in the States, you’re always something else. ‘Tis that students at NYU and Columbia will be complaining and discussing about existentialism and Camus when most of them weren’t forced to work afternoons and nights at the docks and banks to pay for their living and their tuition.
So don’t expect any good Samaritan entering the stage of 19 year-old Frank McCourt’s life to save him from the miserable life he has cleaning hotel lobbies. Don’t expect him to achieve some admirable deed while being in the army in Germany. If you hope that he drastically changed the lives of some kids at the vocational high school he taught, then you would be disappointed.
After all, the life of young Frank McCourt, recently arrived in the States, barely making a living, without a high school diploma, with two sickly eyes, with a family to support back in Ireland and with that never-changing Irish brogue that betrays his origins wherever he goes, is no paradise. And the author doesn’t try to embellish his life story, nor does he try to move his readers with his very often sad and gloomy experiences, which, more than once, let us believe that happiness and happy endings are not written in his destiny. Yet it is his candor, bluntness, honesty and hopelessness that leave you desperate, sorry, hopeful, excited, exasperated, hurt and even happy at times. McCourt knows how to be human and his book is about this simple fact, and in his seemingly effortless attempt at conveying this message to his readers, he leaves us more human than we could possibly be.
I’m going to have to re-read “Angela’s Ashes”, but not right away, because I don’t want to feel that heartache at the end of the book twice in a row.