A warm and compelling read... I thoroughly enjoyed it !
Reviewed in Canada on 22 February 2016
My review of Ms. Woods novel, and these most well deserved five stars, might perhaps be more than a little biased... but I beg forgiveness, and for good reason.
My parents came to the decision, somehow, to pack up everything we owned and leave our own little backwoods Quebec "mill town" to move us all the way down to Rumford, Maine where Dad had landed the enviable position of Steam Plant Superintendent at, yes... the Mighty Oxford.
This was late 1967, and I was only about 10 or 11 years old, and I grew up there... much as Ms. Woods did... the difference being that I was basically a Canadian on the inside, and yet thoroughly immersed, submerged actually, in the legendary "Melting Pot" that was, indeed, post-war America in the 50's and 60's.
We lived next door to the old mill manager, Mr. Ferguson, who makes a brief appearance in the novel, and this sage, warm and very dignified man was certainly the last of the "Good Ones" that were sadly, and a bit unceremoniously, pushed out of Oxford Paper's management team.... only to be replaced by hand-picked specimens of the new and rising Wall Street whiz-kids... the so-called Efficiency Experts that would come in and "modernize" these already well functioning, and profitable, business endeavors.
We were there before, during, and after the sale of Oxford to the Ethyl Corporation which was, to my Old Man, the beginning of the end of this decent, Christian, family owned paper mill. A place that he had decided to throw his own lot in with.
Although spoken as a second-generation, and therefore native, American, Ms.Woods memoires tend to remind me of the self-conscious and actually, truth be told, self-inflicted stigmatism of being just a little bit different from the other kids in your class. Her, because she had lost her Father, for me being the "new kid from Canada" that had just moved into the neighborhood... and to suffer, however slight, that feeling of being just a little bit outside the Pack that defines "Public School System". And yet, she also invokes all the love, warmth, and acceptance that you feel and crave when you finally return home to your own Mom, and your family, after those sojourns into that very new, and very real world.
Ms. Woods also well describes in brilliant prose and resonance, those feelings of kinship, love, and acceptance that you draw from the friends that you finally make... and to draw from them, and by extension, their families as well....the true succor you needed to get on with the business of growing up, and getting on with your new life in this seemingly harsh, strange town, as it were.
Of course... over the years.... as I progressed from Pettengill to Middle School, to Stephens High and finally, just before we moved back to Canada, the new Rumford High School, I came to be accepted by my peers and had by then made many good friends amongst them, and I lived an absolutely marvelously full and interesting life as I came of age down there in Rumford, and although a microcosm of that unique North American phenomenon... the Mill Town.... like Jay, Mexico... Berlin, Livermore Falls, and although they all regurgitated their black liquor, chemical frothy wastes into the poor, abused Androscoggin.... these mill towns provided the very lifeblood of those thriving communities that would otherwise not exist at all in those bleak and almost barren interiors of the northeastern states.
I actually came across this book while researching a casualty of the Vietnam War.... the abovementioned Mr. Ferguson's only son, in fact... and after reading a brief excerpt, became quite engaged by it... enthralled, really... and decided right then and there that I had to have a copy for myself.
And I am so glad that I did.
I want to thank Monica Woods for taking the time to put down to paper this most welcome of memoirs ... a simple, elegant collection of the warm, comfortable things that we all take for granted in our young lives... as children, as adolescents, and later, as young adults.
The things that we can look back on as mature adults, parents ourselves sometimes, and realize that these are the very things, the very values and experiences that we should provide, are compelled to provide... for the young generations that follow us.
For our children and their friends. To provide the warmth and stability of Community... and that comforting atmosphere of welcome and belonging that will carry them into the future... well adjusted, compassionate, and above all, caring.
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