"There's nothing like a wake for having a good time."That one sentence, for me, sums up the tone of Frank McCourt's entire memoir: optimism, maybe even a bit of wry humor, in the face of depressing needs and desperate situations. Or perhaps it's merely the fact that I've never attended an Irish wake? Maybe they're a whole lot more fun than I can imagine. Whichever it is, this book made me think of a 1940s version of Jeannette Walls' book The Glass Castle, only a whole lot more Irish.
Angela's Ashes is the cure for anyone who thinks their life sucks. If you are reading this, you've got electricity. I'm willing to bet your clothes are relatively clean and decent, and (especially if you're an American like me) you're probably not very hungry. (Yeah, I'm talking to you! Put down the Cheetos!) In fact, Angela would say that we "don't have a notion of not having." But even in their constant state of want, there were still times the McCourt family managed to help those less fortunate, because "there are always people worse off and we can surely spare a little from what we have." It was mind-boggling enough that there were people less fortunate, but even more amazing to see the generosity of those who had so little to begin with.
I appreciated the fact that, even though his childhood was filled with hard times occasionally interrupted by harder times, McCourt doesn't seek to put his readers to shame. (I put myself to shame while reading his book, but that's not the author's fault.) He doesn't beg for sympathy or try to make his readers feel guilty for having too much or not giving enough. He's just telling it like . . . 'tis.
It's also intriguing to watch as McCourt develops his writing skills throughout his childhood. It's evident that he had an innate talent that was strong enough to survive abject poverty, and an imagination untouched by his harsh surroundings: "It's lovely to know the world can't interfere with the inside of your head." I'm not sure I agree with that, as the world seems to be messing with my head on a regular basis, but somehow McCourt made it through a much more difficult life than mine with minimal apparent damage.
Maybe I'm just a dummy, but I couldn't figure out why this book was entitled Angela's Ashes. The entire time I was reading, I was expecting Angela (the author's mother) to die, but she managed to hang on the whole way through. Oh, um, spoiler. So I've looked it up in order to enlighten you. Apparently the follow-up book, 'Tis, which was originally tacked on to the end of this book, concludes with the scattering of Angela's ashes. (Yep, that's another spoiler.) And Angela's Ashes concludes with the word 'tis. So there's a sort of symmetry there . . . although it still doesn't quite make sense to me. Shouldn't it have been the other way around?