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Closing Time by Joe Queenan

I have enjoyed all the Joe Queenan books I’ve read, particularly The Unkindest Cut: How a Hatchet-Man Critic Made His Own $7,000 Movie and Put It All on His Credit Card.  Queenan is a journalist and author, having written for the New York Times and The Guardian amongst others, where his acerbic wit and eloquent ranting holds no hostages. I’m not a fan of misery memoirs, but given previous exposure to the Queenan wit, I was happy to make an exception to read this one…

Queenan and his sisters grew up in Philadelphia with a violent alcoholic father and an uninterested depressive mother.  Irish-Americans, they grew up in poverty having to live in the ghetto of a housing project for years. Queenan is clearly bitter about his drunkard father who couldn’t hold down a regular job and subjected them to regular beatings. Queenan soon started to become creative about staying out of the house to avoid his Pa – after-school jobs with father surrogates clothier Len and pharmacist Glenn gave more than just a few dollars in his pocket.

In the two years I worked at the apothecary, my father’s downward trajectory continued, as if he was unaware that the bottom he was seeking had already been hit.

My personal diversionary strategy throughout these years was diabolically cunning: I made sure that when my father was on the premises, I was not.

Thinking he had a calling, he also managed to escape for a whole year to the seminary, but that was a mistake. Ironically, his father was well-read and young Joe also enjoyed literature; he soon realised that the best way out of poverty was to work hard at school and get to college, and luckily for us it worked. When Glenn took him to New York for a day-trip, it was love at first sight, and Joe had a stratagem for ultimately getting out of Philadelphia.

Queenan’s trademark wit and bite can be found in this memoir, and there are passages of dazzling description that will keep you reading; but the book is rather long, and the highlights are sprinkled through like little nuggets of gold. He always speaks with candour and is never sentimental, however it is diluted by the sad but repetitive nature of his circumstances. Philadelphia too comes over as a dull city.

It’s obvious by the end of the book that Queenan, who is nearing 60, is coming to terms with his childhood and wanted to get it off his chest. It will lead those who already know his work to understand where his style comes from, others may find this memoir too long despite the lovely writing. (Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme).

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