McCarthy’s introductory chapter is a whirlwind tour which ranges from her early childhood preciosity to the last of her disastrous attempts at acting while at Vassar. Throughout, the adult comments on the youth, often as the reader follows the author on her multipronged attempts to secure a memory. The texture of memory—of multiple, contradictory memories—is as much McCarthy’s theme as her ostensible content, such as her final recognition that she was not destined to be an actress or her adult comment that this ambition probably reflected a desire to be considered beautiful. McCarthy carefully questions each reminiscence: An early recollection of a precocious questioning of language usage is swiftly followed by a recognition that this event was perhaps not as artless as remembered; she finally decides that she had been mimicking the artlessness of the child for effect.
This introductory chapter telescopes the movement from light to darkness brought about by becoming an orphan at age five (the subject of Memories of a Catholic Girlhood) into a few pages in a style characterized by a deadpan dryness. The anecdote about the precocious questions at prayers is quickly followed by the information that her prayers soon changed to include her parents in heaven. A brief reminiscence of the physical abuse that she received in Minneapolis provokes the adult comment that she has earned the right to satirize her abusers. Laughter, she admits, does dry...
(The entire section is 1391 words.)
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