When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine by Monica Wood. Mariner Books of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 231 pp.
In her stellar memoir, Monica Wood portrays her family’s quiet woe in the wake of her father’s death and the trauma, a few months later, of JFK’s assassination. Monica was only nine when her oversized, ebullient father fell dead that spring. He was on his way to work at another mighty entity, the Oxford paper mill, the big employer in their tiny Maine town of Mexico.
Wood juggles multiple, ongoing stories, including her widowed mother’s shame and depression; her three lively sisters who help Monica cope; her kindly, beloved Uncle Bob, her mother’s brother, a priest devastated and derailed by his brother-in-law’s death; the mill itself, provider of good jobs and sower of deadly toxins; friends and neighbors, including the Wood’s odd, immigrant landlords, who are played for humor but who were terrifying to young Monica; her teachers, the loving, eccentric nuns at school; the ripple effect in her large Irish Catholic family of the Kennedy assassination—and especially its effect on her mother; and Wood’s genesis as a writer.
A successful novelist before turning to memoir, Wood’s experience shows. She blends her childhood world and point of view with the wiser eye of her adult self. Often we see what her child self cannot—the author’s skill here a delight. Her prose is lovely, rich with details and metaphors. She does a lot with implication, knowing how much to leave unsaid.