cover image A Tale of Five Cities and Other Memoirs

A Tale of Five Cities and Other Memoirs

Joyce Elbert. Tough Poets, $18.99 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-0-578-39241-7

In this solid collection of previously unpublished essays compiled by Tough Poets publisher Rick Schober, A Martini on the Other Table novelist Elbert (1930–2009) surveys her Bronx childhood during the Great Depression, her struggles to become a professional author, and her yearslong struggles with alcoholism. After her father’s dress manufacturing business went bankrupt following the 1929 Wall Street crash, Elbert’s mother found refuge at the movies, where her four-year-old daughter observed the disconnect between the glamour on-screen and the “shabbily dressed people looking bereft and miserable” she saw in the real world. Elbert continued to obsess over films as she grew up and strove to emulate the stars she admired; as a result, she became “a watered-down combination of sultry Rita Hayworth who lived for her man and feisty Rosalind Russell who lived for her career.” That candid self-awareness permeates and elevates the entire volume, including passages in which Elbert describes her shame at not resisting a physical abuser and discusses the development of her alcoholism (“My addiction to alcohol had crept up slowly and still surprised me... when I was married to both my alcoholic husbands, if anyone had said I would eventually follow in their footsteps I would have laughed”). The result is an affecting, warts and all portrait of the life of an artist. (Self-published)