When We Were the Kennedys

Monica Wood, Author
Monica Wood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-547-63014-4
Reviewed on: 04/02/2012
Release date: 07/10/2012
Paperback - 234 pages - 978-0-544-00232-6
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-0-547-63229-2
Hardcover - 341 pages - 978-1-4104-6604-4
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-88438-0
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In this amiable, specific glimpse of life in smalltown, 1960s-era Maine, novelist Wood (Any Bitter Thing), revisits the untimely death of her father, who was, like most of the locals, a shift worker at the omnipotent paper mill. From their crowded third-floor apartment, the four sisters and their mother mourn while struggling to reimagine their lives without him. Told mostly from the author’s fourth-grade point-of-view, Wood recalls the stoic, tender emotions of her sisters—playful, younger Cathy; mentally disabled Betty; and maternal high school English teacher Anne. Thanks to life insurance and social security checks, the younger girls are able to stay at their Catholic school and their mother never has to get a job “scrubbing floors,” though she starts keeping “secret sleeping hours.” The girls’ priest uncle, Father Bob, stretches himself to become the family’s male role model, then succumbs to nervousness and alcoholism, landing in an institution near Washington, D.C. Just as the women plan a road trip to visit him, President Kennedy is assassinated, and Wood conjectures that what happened to her family is now happening to the Kennedys and “the whole country.” They tour the nation’s capitol meditating on Jackie while surrendering their grief. Breaking the tidy narration of the book, the author jumps to her college days at Georgetown University and to the death of her mother. But thankfully she switches back to her theme about how a refreshingly functional family learns to accept loss and preserve love. (July)
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