‘Tis is the sequel to the Pulitzer winning Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Also a memoir, ‘Tis begins when Frank arrives in America at the age of 19 having escaped a hellish childhood in Limerick. McCourt’s honest, simple and heartbreaking prose again makes the difficult circumstances he faces into a sublime book. While he constantly refers to his chronic conjunctivitis (scabby eyes), frequent ‘failure to appear’ at dates with his fiancé due to what started as one drink at the bar, and insecurity and ennui at his string of dead-end jobs, I still felt a pang of jealousy at the moment when Frank describes his wedding. Each recollection conjures such intelligence, warmth and hope that I undeniably fell head over heels in love with the author.
While there is less extremity to Tis than Angela’s Ashes, the story does trace Frank as he adjusted to having a life where simple survival is no longer the only goal. This existential context shift is no small feat. Fate sets Frank up with his first job sweeping up trash in the lobby of a hotel, and then frees him from it when he is drafted into the Army during the Korean War. All along, Frank sends money back home to Limerick to support his mother and surviving 3 younger brothers.
Frank describes his dreams as a vague longing: seeing students on the subway with books attending college and later sitting on a bar stool at the Lion’s Head Bar where book jackets of their author patrons are framed along the walls. What he describes as simple jealousy his readers can root for, knowing the outcome.
McCourt shares moments from his 30 year teaching career and the memoir also covers the death of both his parents which left me weeping for the last 50 pages or so. This however, is my favorite excerpt (teaching):
“Lesson? What are they talking about? What lesson? All I can remember is the usual high school whine about why we have to read this and why we have to read that, and my irritation, my unspoken response, is that you have to read it, goddamnnit, because it’s part of the curriculum and because I’m telling you read it, I’m the teacher, and if you don’t cut the whining and complaining you’ll get an English grade on your report card that will make zero look like a gift from the gods because I’m standing here listening to you and looking at you, the privileged, the chosen, the pampered, with nothing to do but go to school, hang out, do a little studying, go to college, get into a money-making racket, grow into your fat forties, still whining, still complaining, when there are millions around the world who’d offer fingers and toes to be in your seats, nicely clothed, well fed, with the world by the balls.
That’s what I’d like to say and never will….”
Hug a teacher, or if you never really liked your teacher, pick up ‘Tis and fall in love with Frank McCourt.