Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review - When We Were the Kennedys

When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine


Monica Wood

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: Death & Grief

Synopsis: Wood recounts the time following her father’s death in 1963, just months before JFK’s assassination.

Date finished: 3 August 2013

Rating: *****

This is another book I decided to read because everyone else had. Its central theme, death, hadn’t appealed to me in the least. And reading a whole book about grief? Didn’t sound like the way I wanted to spend four days.

But I am so glad I read this book.

Not only was the writing stunning, but it was intelligent and well-controlled. It wasn’t sloppy or sentimental or indulgent. Wood told the story she meant to tell, and she told it plainly and with dignity.

This book reminded me a lot of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think it was tone, more than subject matter, though, that prompts the comparison. Both Wood and Smith are masterful at telling a story through a child’s eyes.

There is almost no action in this story whatsoever. But there are little adventures and memorable characters. And something that surprised me a great deal was how very little time the author spent describing her father. We knew little about him, but just enough to bring us into the family and allow us to feel grief. Any other author telling this story would have bombarded the reader with facts and stories about the man, at the very least, including a chapter introducing us to him. The fact that she didn’t made the story even better.

I found myself analyzing how the story was put together as much as enjoying the read. This would be a great book for a nonfiction literature class or a memoir writing curriculum. There’s much to study here in technique—most of it so subtle you don’t realize it’s technique at all.

This is a book I anticipate returning to again and again. In an odd way, it’s a very comforting read.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

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