American Girl

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Mary Lee Cantwell lived with her maternal grandparents, aunt, parents, and younger sister in Bristol, Rhode Island. Situated on Narragansett Bay, the town had a population of eleven thousand at the time of her birth. Her family had been a part of Bristol and New England for nearly a century. Bristol, with its salty air and equally salty citizenry, was in the family’s blood. The Cantwell family relished its heritage and believed that, by instilling in their children a sense of history, a firm foundation would be laid upon which the girls could build their future lives.

Vignette by vignette Mary Cantwell chronicles her childhood and adolescence. Whether she is describing the first day of school, a disastrous talent show, glorious July Fourth celebrations, summer berry-picking, or high school dances, both the joy and pain of growing up are present, always softened by the ambience of Bristol. The town, its eccentric inhabitants, and its New England provincialism are as vivid a part of Mary Cantwell’s memories as the events themselves.

AMERICAN GIRL: SCENES FROM A SMALL TOWN CHILDHOOD is the story of a town, a girl, and a time in America which lives on mostly in our memories. Although Mary Cantwell was graduated from Bristol as surely as she was graduated from high school, it is clear from this memoir that a part of her has never really left. Though she returns physically to Bristol only three or four times a year, she returns often in her thoughts. In this book she allows the reader to join her in a most charming and heartwarming journey.