Catherine McClure Gildiner's teen and young adult years were both normal and odd, conservative and liberal. The memoir After the Falls begins when Gildiner's family moved from Niagara Falls to Buffalo in the early 1960s, where they all began new lives. Cathy's story is one of contrasts: public persona versus private beliefs and first judgments versus deeper analysis.
Cathy had been encouraged from a young age to be self-reliant and resourceful, and from the first day in her new school, she put her energies into fitting in and making friends. Although in appearance, she was the perfect blond preppy, wearing Villager outfits with Pappagallo shoes, in the inside she was always questioning, always just a bit rebellious, and never afraid to work.
To the outside world, she had the typical suburban upbringing: Her father went to work each morning and tended his lawn on the weekends, while her mother stayed at home. But Cathy's home life was anything but normal for the Donna Reed Show era. For example, the family ate every meal in a restaurant, and Cathy was treated almost as an adult from about the age of four.
When Cathy moved to Ohio for college, she once again had to find a way to fit in and stay true to her personal convictions. The university was an eye-opener for her, and she gradually traded in her pink and green A-line skirts and sweaters for bell-bottoms and suede jackets. Instead of trying to join a sorority, Cathy became more interested in joining the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, instead of listening to Sandra Dee, she started tuning into Buffalo Springfield.
Catherine Gildiner is about six years older than I am and was way more active in the political scene of the 1960s as a college student than I was as a high schooler. On the other hand, we share common cultural memories and experiences from the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show to the demonstrations in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Her perspective brings the decade to life, and although my upbringing was different from hers, Gildiner's story is familiar and authentic.
Cathy's memoir is the best of genre: It transports the reader to a time and place. It doesn't preach and it doesn't try to inspire or guide or give hope. It just tells a story of a young women who came of age during one of the most actively transitional times of the late twentieth century. For those who lived it, for those who remember it, for those who want to know more about it, After the Falls captures the sixties from a personal perspective that is also universal.
After the Falls is an Indie Next Pick for November 2010. To learn more about Catherine Gildiner, be sure to visit her website. Her earlier memoir, Too Close to the Falls, relates the first twelve years of her life. There is a planned third memoir, which will take us into the seventies and beyond.
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Published by Viking , 2010
Source: Review (see review policy)
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