A Song for Mary
Dennis Smith’s first autobiographical book, Report from Engine Co. 82, appeared in 1972 and garnered literary acclaim. Ten book to his credit later, this prequel to that account of life as a New York firefighter, A Song for Mary: An Irish-American Memory, is a love letter disguised as a memoir—a tribute to Smith’s mother, Mary, who raised two sons single-handedly while her husband lingered, and finally died, in a mental hospital.
Smith describes his and his older brother, Billy’s, ordinary lives with extraordinary insight. Although little of import occurred in the Smith’s Irish- Catholic community beyond the daily dreams inherent in skipping school, confessing first loves, and hiding one’s whereabouts, the charm of Smith’s account lies in his ability to see and highlight the significance of life’s small gestures. For example, the author’s account of giving his mother the gift of a ring he had saved for months to purchase captures his and his mother’s characters and their rapport in a single anecdote. Smith’s mother, beside herself with anguish over Smith’s recent delinquent behavior, realizes her son’s present says more about his soul than does his truancy. In turn, her telling him so provides Smith the self-esteem to prove her observation true.
Yet for the very normalcy and even nostalgia that create in A Song for Mary refreshing sentiment, sufficient strong diction and tension also...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
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