Content Tagged ‘Monica Wood’

Q&A: Monica Wood

June 17, 2015 | 9 Comments

Loving kindness

May 27, 2015 | 10 Comments

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.

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Perils of persona 2.0

March 27, 2015 | 8 Comments

In life we present ourselves to others amidst their constant feedback. Body language, words, eyes that twinkle or harden. Our micro adjustments to emotional currents are constant. We’re bred to send and receive signals. On the page, though, how do you know how you’re coming across?

I’ve been pondering this, as I do when I teach or write. But also because of recent events. In the first, I Skyped with a book group that had read my memoir. They gathered at RiverRead Books, a fine independent bookstore in downtown Binghamton, New York.

I got the sense—maybe a memoirist’s paranoia—that, like most book groups, they read mostly fiction. Which may partly explain one nice lady’s keen frustration with me as a character in the book. And look: Here’s that obtuse character is in the flesh. Or at least on the computer screen. A reckoning was in order. She wanted to know how I could have done it, ignored good sense and my wife and torn down a charming little cabin on our farm? All because I didn’t want to use farmland to build a house? When we didn’t even build the house after all?

Facing this sweet, smiling, frustrated woman, I was speechless. Her issue with me then felt so personal now. My thoughts raced. I created your love for that cabin. I created that dork who tore it down. I wanted you to be frustrated with me then.

As the Bible says, humans are “born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” Literature is about trouble. You can play trouble for comedy or drama, but baby you play it.

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