Too Close to the Falls

Catherine Gildiner, Author Viking Books $24.95 (354p) ISBN 978-0-670-89463-5
Now a successful clinical psychologist with a monthly advice column in the popular Canadian magazine Chatelaine, Gildiner tells of her childhood in 1950s Lewiston, N.Y., a small town near Niagara Falls, in this hilarious and moving coming-of-age memoir. Deemed hyperactive by the town's pediatrician, at age four Gildiner was put to work at her father's pharmacy in an effort to harness her energy. Her stories of delivering prescriptions with her father's black deliveryman, Roy, are the most affecting parts of this book, with young Cathy serving as map reader for the illiterate but streetwise fellow, who acted as both protector and fellow adventurer. In a style reminiscent of the late Jean Shepherd, Gildiner tells her tales with a sharp humor that rarely misses a beat and underscores the dark side of what at first seems a Norman Rockwell existence. Mired in a land dispute, the local Native American population has a chief who requires sedatives to subdue his violent moods. Meanwhile, the feared ""monster"" who maintains the town dump is simply afflicted with ""Elephant Man"" syndrome. And Cathy's mother--with her intellectual preoccupations and aversion to housework and visiting neighbors--is an emblem of prefeminist frustration. The book's vaunted celebrity dish--Gildiner delivered sleeping pills to Marilyn Monroe on the set of Niagara--pales in comparison to such ordinary adult pathos. By book's end, Cathy, too, gets her share, as beloved Roy mysteriously exits and an entanglement with a confused young priest brings her literally and figuratively ""too close to the falls."" (Feb. 19)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
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