Monday, June 25, 2007

Book Review: Angela's Ashes, by Frank McCourt

I really think that this book should come with an extra, like those textbooks that come with CDs and the kids books with a free scrunchie taped to the cover. I have a genius marketing strategy: each copy of Angela's Ashes should come taped to the butt of an Irish person. That's right folks, a free Irish person when you buy Angela's Ashes for the low low price of $14.95. I would consider it a learning aid. I read Angela's Ashes many years ago when it first came out in paperback, which was probably later than most other people, considering how long you can keep a hardback on the New York Times Bestseller List after it's won the Pulitzer Prize and been featured in every magazine from Time to People. I'm glad I re-read it with my Irish learning aid.
It happened a few weeks ago that I was browsing what I consider to be the cradle of life, the fiery core around which all human life revolves and the Seat of All Happiness, Contentment and General Well-Being. I speak, of course, of the Half-Price Books located on Northwest Highway in Dallas. About 3 city blocks of nirvana. The 3-ish city blocks where God dwells. Also where the Blessed Virgin Mary has been spotted on numerous occasions. Anyway, I was there, and I bought a copy of Mr. McCourt's memoir for a dollar. I would say that it only reads better the second time around if you happen to have picked up with an Irishman in the in-between time, but I recommend that everyone give it as many shots as it takes to fully absorb the material. This way, phrases such as "Would ye credit that?" and "Arrah, would ye ever go and have a good shit for yourself" can be properly appreciated on the printed page. I tell you, the thing that made this book sing was the language. It's told in the present tense, which seems to put the reader in a place of immediate action, and without sacrificing a syllable of the Irish-English. It's the use of slang and local language that's spelled as it's heard that turns words into sounds. As far as language goes, the main thing you need the free Irishman for is the inflection, which can't be written but is indispensible to any truly accurate foreign characterization.
The book seasons its fairly heartbreaking setting and plot with humor and grace (which is more than I would have had I been there), so that you can crack a strange, almost inappropriate smile while reading about starving children, which is pretty impressive work as far as I'm concerned. In many places, the thing was downright hilarious. If you aren't on a school schedule, the book is actually impossible to put down.
I always feel a kind of sense of accomplishment when I finish a book, and when I finished this one I felt like I should have applauded Frank McCourt or something. Highly recommended. Let the Pulitzer-ness take you.

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