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The Boys of My Youthby Jo Ann Beard
Existing somewhere between a memoir and an essay collection, The Boys of My Youth lives in a genre all its own. It is so addicting, and if you didn't know it was nonfiction, you'd assume it was a book of short stories. The best book I've read in years.
Synopses & Reviews
Jo Ann Beard grew up amid a tightly knit clan of mothers, aunts, sisters, and girlfriends. Her steadfast family and its culture of women somehow made the prospect of dangerous neighborhood boys, friendly barflies, and potential romance all the more irresistible. But in these wonderfully engaging memory pieces, the boys of Beard's youth — and the men who eventually replace them — are elusive characters. Beloved boy dolls disintegrate, grade school crushes dissipate, and husbands disappear. The relationships that endure are the ones between women. Childhood dramas are balanced by actual tragedies and adult betrayals, and Beard captures the collision of youthful longing and the hard intransigences of time and fate like no other writer. In the title story, two old friends, stumbling away from ruined marriages, remember the darkest moments of abandonment, but also the thrilling momentum of a car doing ninety and the strange allure of teenage basketball players. In the end, they realize that in matters of the heart, nothing much, yet somehow everything, has changed.
"Reading Jo Ann Beard's prose feels as comfortable as falling into step beside an old, intimate friend. She's the sort of writer whose charm lies in the voice...with which she relates the events of a mostly ordinary life.... Beard remembers (or imagines) her childhood self with an uncanny lucidity that startles." Laura Miller, New York Times Book Review
"Beard is companionable, casual, serious about the things that matter without ever being self-serious, sharp without being cruel, compassionate without going soft. She accomplishes something with the personal essay that's similar to what Lee Smith or Jill McCorkle do in their fiction. Reading The Boys of My Youth is like going to a party or a barbecue where you hardly know a soul and winding up spending the entire time having a great conversation with someone you just met." Charles Taylor, Salon
"These one-dimensional autobiographical fragments of girlhood, young adulthood, and a crumbling marriage are exercises in mere recollection, mostly lacking the narrative drive to make them worthwhile." Kirkus
Rarely does the debut of a new writer garner such attention and acclaim. The excitement began the moment "The Fourth State of Matter," one of the fourteen extraordinary personal narratives in this book, appeared in the pages of the New Yorker. It increased when the author received a prestigious Whiting Foundation Award in November 1997, and it continued as the hardcover edition of The Boys of My Youth sold out its first printing even before publication. The author writes with perfect pitch as she takes us through one woman's life - from childhood to marriage and beyond - and memorably captures the collision of youthful longing and the hard intransigences of time and fate.
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