I came to believe that every book should be read in the most incongruous surroundings possible, for then it imposes its own unity in a way that startles the reader when he has to emerge again into his own world—Vita Sackville-West
Genre: Biography and Memoir
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pub. Date: March 5, 2019
After reading the Goodreads blurb, I figured this book was a no-brainer for me. The blurb suggests that Tom Phelan’s memoir is in the tradition of Frank McCourt’s memoir, “Angela’s Ashes.” Considering, I loved “Ashes,” what could go wrong? The answer is plenty. I already knew from the book’s title that Phelan’s tale would be much more upbeat than McCourt’s. But give me a break. Phelan makes it sound like his growing up poor in Ireland in the 1940s was nothing short of a Disney vacation.
The biography is mostly saccharine. Phelan never expresses any frustration or even a thought on how his adult life was taken out of his hands. Rather he jokes that since his childhood he was groomed to become a priest. Now I get that this is Ireland. And I also get that families can be very proud when their children devote their lives to the Church. (It doesn’t hurt that the family’s social status is upped when this happens). Remember the 1977 movie, “Saturday Night Fever?” John Travolta played the character Tony Manero, a 19-year-old Italian-American living in Brooklyn. Remember how upset his parents were when his brother left the priesthood? It may be different decades, different cultures, but the same pride in having a son as a priest. So as an Italian-American, when I say I get it, I truly do. But—and this is a big but—the author seems to be determined that his tale be nothing shy of heartwarming.
Perhaps I am being a little too harsh in my critique. There is a poetic quality in the author’s prose. I did get a kick out of all the Irish words and expressions that I read. I thank the author for the glossary. I did laugh at ‘drunk Uncle Paulie” stories. Plus, there are similarities between “We Were Rich” and the John Grisham novel, “A Painted House,” a book I did very much enjoy. Both stories revolve around a back-breaking rural lifestyle. Both protagonists have loving, wise and demanding fathers. Both books have the same good vibes about them. Still, Grisham’s novel reads more realistically. There are unsolvable problems in “House.” To be fair, in this memoir, the chapter “Midnight Phone Call” can make you teary. Yet, the sorrow is expected, which takes out some of the punch. So, if you are looking for a sweet uplifting story that takes you back to a simpler time, then this one is for you. Sometimes, even I can be in the mood for such a read. Personally, I felt set up by the comparison to McCourt. I guess I was expecting a memoir with more grit.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON
Find all my book reviews at:
“What counts, in the long run, is not what you read; it is what you sift through your own mind; it is the ideas and impressions that are aroused in you by your reading.” — Eleanor Roosevelt