Verdict: FROM BROOKLYN TO KINGSPORT is a worthwhile read for those interested in the lifelong impact of severe family dysfunction and the gift of childhood resilience.
In this often painful memoir, author Dr. David Garrahan shares his life—a tale of rags to relative riches—from his birth in 1938 to age 80. Poverty, harsh treatment by parochial school educators, and his parent’s neglect and physical abuse didn’t defeat him. Garrahan eventually earned a PhD from Columbia University’s School of Education and had a long career in teaching, counseling, and school district supervision. He also became an astute investor in stocks, real estate, and collectibles.
The early chapters of FROM BROOKLYN TO KINGSPORT are the most dramatic, because they openly recount the author’s sadness over an ever-disappearing father and the fear of living with a violent, mentally ill mother. A patchy network of extended family cared for him and his siblings off and on, but for a big chunk of his early life, it was Garrahan’s emotional resilience, resourcefulness, and keen intelligence that helped him survive. He slept in churches and stole from their poor boxes, dug into restaurant garbage cans for dinner, looted produce as he ran past the greengrocer’s wagon, and shined shoes in pubs.
Garrahan’s mother, Ann, was committed to mental hospitals three times beginning when he was two years old. Her third stay lasted seven years. Wielding a large knife, she had chased Garrahan and his younger sister, Loretta, through Brooklyn after calmly saying, “I love you, but I have to kill you. Don’t be afraid….You will go straight to heaven.”
Garrahan warns readers that he wrote FROM BROOKLYN TO KINGSPORT for himself and a limited circle of family and acquaintances, but “other readers may find it interesting.” He’s right. Much of it is fascinating, including his autocratic shake-up of the New Jersey school district he headed. But, oh, the frustration over the book’s disorder! Photos are mentioned in the text but hard to find and not captioned. Flashbacks and flash-forwards chop up the chapters and make the chronology confusing.
Most awkward is Garrahan’s assertion that he tells his life story “warts and all,” because he avoids trying to explain one of its biggest scars—his failed first marriage to the mother of his three children. He also fails to write about their births and tells little about his response to fatherhood. That should have been a stronger element in this autobiography haunted by his own deadbeat dad.
FROM BROOKLYN TO KINGSPORT is a worthwhile read for those interested in the lifelong impact of severe family dysfunction and the gift of childhood resilience.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader