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Behind the Lace Curtain: Memoir of an Irish American is a collection of personal essays that describe growing up as an Irish Catholic in the city of Boston. The narration takes place in the tumultuous 1950s and1960s. In language that is lyrical and unhurried, the author remembers stories from her girlhood and young adulthood. To a less observant eye the stories and scenes may seem ordinary. But the essays disarm the readers with their intimate conversational style. Readers come to see the comic and tragic strands in all our lives.

The author brings us back to a time in Boston when two powerful institutions guided the the thinking and behavior of everyday life. They were the Catholic Church and the Irish family. Together, they formed a single seamless garment that defined what was expected, whether a girl wanted to be a
lady or whether she aspired to be a nun. We tended to accept these conventions and seldom questioned them.

It was a time when appearances mattered. Only in Catholic Boston would the wedding between an Irish and an Italian Catholic be labelled a
mixed marriage. Only in Catholic Boston would it be considered sinful for a Catholic family to send its children to public schools. Only in Boston’s Irish Catholic families was a hope cherished that the oldest child in a family would be called by God to enter the priesthood or the religious life.

In developing these stories the author recalls words, phrases and sentences that haunt her consciousness. The. author uses these reflections within her story. For example, the saying, “Whether you marry or not, you live to regret it,” becomes a starting point for an essay that traces marital love through three generations of families. In another place, the author hears her mother’s less than enthusiastic endorsement of women in the work force, “Don’t you think that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?” When the author recalls that her mother believed women should not drive cars. “Only men should drive,” she said because “men needed something to be in charge of.” Finally, her mother argued that a “woman should be like a gloved hand,” meaning women should get whatever they wanted but they needed to achieve their goals in indirect or feminine ways.

The author presents her mother as a strong and independent woman, who met the challenges of life with grace and humor. She looked for and found beauty, even in the most unlikely places. Of all her mother’s sayings. the one that is cherished most is this: “If you have only two pennies, spend one for bread and, with the other, buy hyacinths for the soul.”

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