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Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town

by

Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Shirley seemed to be doomed from the beginning. Founded by a Vaudevillian huckster who touted it as a seaside haven despite the sand bar that blocks access to the shore, the town has been plagued by one disaster after another — a UFO, a childhood cancer cluster, and a mysterious federal nuclear laboratory in nearby Brookhaven that leaked toxic nuclear and chemical waste into the aquifer from which the residents unknowingly drew their well water.

This is Kelly McMasters' account of growing up in a cursed town and loving it anyway, and of a girl's awakening to tragedy and to a sense of mission. Told in a deliciously engaging voice, Welcome to Shirley balances the bitter with the sweet, the funny with the infuriating, in an unforgettable story of working class Long Island.

Review:

"Journalist McMasters's look at the toxic relationship between Brookhaven National Laboratory and the neighboring Long Island towns careens into a tedious memoir of childhood. McMasters moved to the unpromising working-class town of Shirley in the early 1970s when she was five and her golf pro father got a job with Hampton Hills Golf & Country Club. For a child without siblings, the street teeming with young families was a magical place to grow up, and McMasters made lifelong girlfriends. However, the town was economically depressed, despite its optimistic founding by Walter T. Shirley in the early 1950s. And Shirley was in the shadow of the top-secret Brookhaven atomic research laboratory, whose nuclear reactor was completed in 1965 regardless of the dangers posed to the growing community. Tritium, the waste from nuclear experiments, leaked into the adjacent rivers and aquifers for decades, and the author ploddingly traces the seepage into private wells. The town flirted with a name change to bolster property values, just as residents were plagued by alarming cases of cancer. Indeed, thanks to the Long Island Breast Cancer Research Project of 1993, a 'cluster' of cases was discovered within a 15-mile radius of Brookhaven. Intermittently, McMasters summons considerable research and critical powers, yet the litany of Shirley's resident misery resists an elegant synthesis." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"McMasters tells the story…with passion and clarity. She also pulls off a small miracle in the telling, making rundown, unbeautiful Shirley a place of dignity, a place of heroic people and stubborn fighters, a place you'd be proud to call home." Elaina Richardson, O Magazine

Review:

"Journalist McMasters writes with precision, affection, and venom about the history of her hometown...Joining the growing circle of environmental health memoirists, McMasters marshals the facts and articulates feelings with eloquence and drama, telling stories of personal suffering to expose crimes against the public, and nature itself." Donna Seaman, Booklist

Review:

"Powerful...debut explores the author's happy childhood next to a controversial nuclear laboratory that leaked toxic waste into a Long Island aquifer. McMasters follows up this moving material with pages that delve into case-study numbers and scientific quotes ... Sincere and expertly researched." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"All places are mute till someone speaks for them — this book bears marvelous, scalding witness to the kind of horror that's been repeated in so many spots that we've almost gone numb. But no one will be numb after reading this account." Bill McKibben, author of The Bill McKibben Reader

Review:

"McMasters has written an eloquent love song to the small, unfashionable town where she grew up, with echoes of such great writers as Thornton Wilder and Edgar Lee Masters and Upton Sinclair. This is a great book about small town America. It should be required reading for us all." Abigail Thomas, author of the memoir A Three Dog Life

Review:

"Welcome to Shirley is an uplifting and disturbing hybrid of the personal and the journalistic, slipping between profound nostalgia and an adult reckoning with the realities of her gritty town. McMasters' voice is devastating in its clarity and urgency and great tenderness." Meredith Hall, author Without A Map: a Memoir

Review:

"The heartbreak of this story is in the small details, which leave a lingering sense of lives that might be forgotten if they were not recalled here. Both personal and political, and steadily compelling, Welcome to Shirley is a thoughtful, delicate elegy to an ideal." Lydia Millet, author of Oh Pure and Radiant Heart and How the Dead Dream

Review:

"In the era of Love Canal, A Civil Action and An Inconvenient Truth, McMasters delivers this all-American atomic town to us with a rare precision. McMasters' is an American life as ordinary — and wholly remarkable — as our damaged industrial centuries: Norman Rockwell with his brush dipped in isotopes." Susanne Antonetta, author of Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir

Review:

"This intimate portrait of hardscrabble Shirley, Long Island shows through individual lives — and deaths — how environmental injustice works." Suzannah Lessard, author of Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

Book News Annotation:

Growing up in Shirley, New York, a down-on-its-luck working- class town at the opposite end of the upscale Hamptons on Long Island, McMasters (writing, Columbia U.), watched her mother and a disproportionate number of neighbors die of cancer. She chronicles the story of the longtime dumping of nuclear waste by a nearby leaking federal nuclear laboratory into the town's water table, and how the beleaguered town fared when the lawyer in the Love Canal case took the case in 1996. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

In a down-and-out service town to the glittering Hamptons, a shadow falls over a girl's magical childhood

About the Author

Kelly McMasters' essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, Newsday, Elle Décor, Metropolis, and Time Out New York, among others. She teaches writing at Columbia University and mediabistro.com and is the co-director of the KGB Nonfiction Reading Series in the East Village. She lives in Manhattan and northeast Pennsylvania with her husband, the painter Mark Milroy.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Metsfan91, January 17, 2011 (view all comments by Metsfan91)
Did McMasters go to William Floyd?..How old is she? It appears we may be the same age- and We did move here in the early 1970's from Nassau County, (and before that Brooklyn)...we referred to our "New Home" in "Shirley" as the country..I have lived here ever since...I was about 7 when we moved here- my sister was 5- Don't remember Kelly though...But do remember loving our "town" and going to the drive in and eating at skippy's and shopping at Bohack- and if we took a little drive- going to Woolworth and Hills in Center Moriches. I plan an reading this book..But Kelly...our schools were small enough that we should remember you but we don't....Who are you? And, How long did you live here?
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
blanche, August 26, 2010 (view all comments by blanche)
Providing a fair and accurate depiction of life in Shirley, NY required the author to have been alive and aware of her surroundings at the time the town was stood up. Her depiction of Shirley is similar to establishing a scathing critique of the Bronx circa 1960s when it was on the decline and only a shadow of its former self. Shirley was, in its heyday, a Normam Rockwell town. A place of quiet and tranquility. A great place, in fact, to raise a family. A town of simple wants and needs nestled near the Atlantic. Lazy summer days sun bathing at Shirley beach,and later when the Smith Point bridge was constructed, along a beautiful strip of Fire Island. Summer evenings catching a burger or two at Skippy's before heading into the Shirley Drive-In to catch a Cinemascope main feature. Winters of significantly more peace and quiet. Townsfolk who took deep pride in their community, many of whom were recent city transplants taking true delight in small town living. One could go on about Shirley at a time when its founder was present. Then again, one could portray the town in an entirely different light, after Mr. Shirley had passed. When it was overrun in the early 1970s by folks with a limited to non-existent sense of community, essentially destroying the small town integrity that Shirley once enjoyed. I have no issue with the author's description of life in that area as she knew it. The problem is, she has no idea what the town was truly like in its prime. To refer to Mr. Shirley as a "huckster" is to depict him as a cardboard cutout. In person, an entirely different individual than the one the author makes out in her book. Research of a place must be considered in proper context. One can never truly experience a place unless they were there at the time and, unfortunately, the author was born much too late to appreciate what she missed. There are folks, of an earlier generation than the author, who think back on Shirley as it once existed, wishing that they could travel to a time before the great 1970s invasion. The stuff that dreams are made of...
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(4 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)
blanche, August 26, 2010 (view all comments by blanche)
Providing a fair and accurate depiction of life in Shirley, NY required the author to have been alive and aware of her surroundings at the time the town was stood up. Her depiction of Shirley is similar to establishing a scathing critique of the Bronx circa 1960s when it was on the decline and only a shadow of its former self. Shirley was, in its heyday, a Normam Rockwell town. A place of quiet and tranquility. A great place, in fact, to raise a family. A town of simple wants and needs nestled near the Atlantic. Lazy summer days sun bathing at Shirley beach,and later when the Smith Point bridge was constructed, along a beautiful strip of Fire Island. Summer evenings catching a burger or two at Skippy's before heading into the Shirley Drive-In to catch a Cinemascope main feature. Winters of significantly more peace and quiet. Townsfolk who took deep pride in their community, many of whom were recent city transplants taking true delight in small town living. One could go on about Shirley at a time when its founder was present. Then again, one could portray the town in an entirely different light, after Mr. Shirley had passed. When it was overrun in the early 1970s by folks with a limited to non-existent sense of community, essentially destroying the small town integrity that Shirley once enjoyed. I have no issue with the author's description of life in that area as she knew it. The problem is, she has no idea what the town was truly like in its prime. To refer to Mr. Shirley as a "huckster" is to depict him as a cardboard cutout. In person, an entirely different individual than the one the author makes out in her book. Research of a place must be considered in proper context. One can never truly experience a place unless they were there at the time and, unfortunately, the author was born much too late to appreciate what she missed. There are folks, of an earlier generation than the author, who think back on Shirley as it once existed, wishing that they could travel to a time before the great 1970s invasion. The stuff that dreams are made of...
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 3 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9781586484866
Subtitle:
A Memoir from an Atomic Town
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Author:
McMasters, Kelly
Subject:
Pollution
Subject:
History
Subject:
General
Subject:
Childhood Memoir
Subject:
Regional Subjects - MidAtlantic
Subject:
Environmental Science
Subject:
McMasters, Kelly - Childhood and youth
Subject:
Shirley (Suffolk County, N.Y.)
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Biography-Childhood Memoir
Subject:
Biography - General
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20090428
Binding:
Paperback
Language:
English
Illustrations:
map
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in 17.5 oz

Related Subjects

Biography » General
History and Social Science » Americana » New York
History and Social Science » Americana » Northeast
History and Social Science » World History » General
Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » Pollution

Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 336 pages PublicAffairs - English 9781586484866 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Journalist McMasters's look at the toxic relationship between Brookhaven National Laboratory and the neighboring Long Island towns careens into a tedious memoir of childhood. McMasters moved to the unpromising working-class town of Shirley in the early 1970s when she was five and her golf pro father got a job with Hampton Hills Golf & Country Club. For a child without siblings, the street teeming with young families was a magical place to grow up, and McMasters made lifelong girlfriends. However, the town was economically depressed, despite its optimistic founding by Walter T. Shirley in the early 1950s. And Shirley was in the shadow of the top-secret Brookhaven atomic research laboratory, whose nuclear reactor was completed in 1965 regardless of the dangers posed to the growing community. Tritium, the waste from nuclear experiments, leaked into the adjacent rivers and aquifers for decades, and the author ploddingly traces the seepage into private wells. The town flirted with a name change to bolster property values, just as residents were plagued by alarming cases of cancer. Indeed, thanks to the Long Island Breast Cancer Research Project of 1993, a 'cluster' of cases was discovered within a 15-mile radius of Brookhaven. Intermittently, McMasters summons considerable research and critical powers, yet the litany of Shirley's resident misery resists an elegant synthesis." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "McMasters tells the story…with passion and clarity. She also pulls off a small miracle in the telling, making rundown, unbeautiful Shirley a place of dignity, a place of heroic people and stubborn fighters, a place you'd be proud to call home."
"Review" by , "Journalist McMasters writes with precision, affection, and venom about the history of her hometown...Joining the growing circle of environmental health memoirists, McMasters marshals the facts and articulates feelings with eloquence and drama, telling stories of personal suffering to expose crimes against the public, and nature itself."
"Review" by , "Powerful...debut explores the author's happy childhood next to a controversial nuclear laboratory that leaked toxic waste into a Long Island aquifer. McMasters follows up this moving material with pages that delve into case-study numbers and scientific quotes ... Sincere and expertly researched."
"Review" by , "All places are mute till someone speaks for them — this book bears marvelous, scalding witness to the kind of horror that's been repeated in so many spots that we've almost gone numb. But no one will be numb after reading this account."
"Review" by , "McMasters has written an eloquent love song to the small, unfashionable town where she grew up, with echoes of such great writers as Thornton Wilder and Edgar Lee Masters and Upton Sinclair. This is a great book about small town America. It should be required reading for us all."
"Review" by , "Welcome to Shirley is an uplifting and disturbing hybrid of the personal and the journalistic, slipping between profound nostalgia and an adult reckoning with the realities of her gritty town. McMasters' voice is devastating in its clarity and urgency and great tenderness."
"Review" by , "The heartbreak of this story is in the small details, which leave a lingering sense of lives that might be forgotten if they were not recalled here. Both personal and political, and steadily compelling, Welcome to Shirley is a thoughtful, delicate elegy to an ideal."
"Review" by , "In the era of Love Canal, A Civil Action and An Inconvenient Truth, McMasters delivers this all-American atomic town to us with a rare precision. McMasters' is an American life as ordinary — and wholly remarkable — as our damaged industrial centuries: Norman Rockwell with his brush dipped in isotopes."
"Review" by , "This intimate portrait of hardscrabble Shirley, Long Island shows through individual lives — and deaths — how environmental injustice works."
"Synopsis" by ,
In a down-and-out service town to the glittering Hamptons, a shadow falls over a girl's magical childhood
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