UPHILL WALKERS: A Memoir of a Family
Release date: 05/01/2001
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Blais (author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle, a high school basketball team narrative that was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in 1995) turns her impressive reporting skills to her own 1950s rural Massachusetts childhood in this occasionally dense memoir. Her attraction to journalism, she explains toward the end of the book, is rooted in its "power to capture... what was real, the music of what happens, and to impound all those details that defy embellishment," yet it proves to be a power that both benefits and bogs down her memoir. For the most part, Blais evokes her family with verve, particularly her widowed mother's feisty spirit in the face of raising six young children on her own in 1952. Any Catholic school alum will relate to Blais's disgust when she relates such incidents as how her priest co-opted the pop tune "To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him," making it into a religious creed. But her analysis of such minutiae as the ads and articles surrounding her father's obituary can overwhelm her narrative. Her account would have benefited from firmer editing, given the wealth of family specifics. Besides her mother, Blais touches on her five siblings' lives, including an older brother whose mental illness surprisingly dominates the end of the book. Still, the flashes of brilliance in Blais's brushwork—such as the scene where she and sister Jacqueline, now an editor at USA Today , finally discovered how to use their new vocabulary word "lapis lazuli"—make it worth wading through her sometimes overreported journey into her past. Agent, ICM. (May)
Forecast:A six-city tour will help get out the word about this book to New Englanders and Blais's fans, but this flawed effort isn't likely to be her breakout book.