Wednesday, May 6, 2009

by Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is well-known as a humorist, critic, author, satirist, who rants and raves about everything that is not right about America.
In his latest book, his tenth, he turns to writing about himself: growing up in Philadelphia in horrible neighborhoods.
As a young child, he and his sisters lived in a housing project. They are forced to wear clothing considered off-brand (Made in Pakistan, not the label saying Made in U.S.A.) and eat food mostly out of cans. Most of the time, they are starving. Their horrendous existence is due to Joe Queenan Sr., an alcoholic that cannot keep a job for any period of time. His nightly bouts of rage, fueled by liquor, turns him into an emotional ball of terror, which he then inflicts on his children, beating them with his belt.
Joe Jr. knows that this is not the life or future he wants for himself, so he starts looking for ways to get out. When he's eight years old, his first job, at six dollars a week, is working for a man who owns a clothing store that can barely stay in business. Seven years later, he is behind the counter at a pharmacy, filling prescriptions, his boss in the back chain-smoking and cooking gourmet meals for his hungry protege. These men become both his mentors and surrogate fathers.
Joe's love of books and music sustains him and he's an excellent student at school. At one point, he desires to become a priest and enters a seminary. It's short-lived and he is told not to return.
Closing Time is a fierce, dark story about poverty and rising above it. Queenan's writing is superb and even though he's very cynical, there's much to laugh at. He's very detailed, descriptive and honest.
A terrific read.
Highly recommended.