Book review: The Clancys of Queens, by Tara Clancy
A fast-paced memoir composed of vignettes of the author’s time growing up with her big Irish-Italian families in Queens. After her parents’ split when she was a toddler, she divides her time between her dad’s tiny but loving boathouse home and bar family in Broad Channel and her mom’s colorful family of loud, cursing Brooklynite Italians, with sojourns to her stepfather’s glamorous Hamptons estate. She bounces seamlessly between these different worlds despite their differences, and they all influence her in their own ways, giving her a lot of good stories to tell.
I have a big soft spot for growing up memoirs and anything about unusual or dysfunctional families, elements which were particularly fun in her story. The sweetest part of her story, to me, was how much love her entire family clearly had for each other, despite divorce, some initial problems with her sexuality, early teenage forays into drugs and alcohol, and what could be a big clash of personalities. Instead, there’s a lot of love and support and that was refreshing to see.
I loved her frankness, sense of humor, and her smart writing style. She’s excellent at vivid character descriptions, and considering some of the quirky ones who have been part of her life, that’s a lucky talent to have.
She captures a lot of the culture very well, deftly portraying close-knit generations of immigrant families, and especially the feeling of the region. I’m a Queens girl too, half a decade younger than her so not too distant, and I loved the little trip down memory lane that some of her reminiscences triggered. (But we always called quarter waters “barrel drinks.)
But as a whole, the book feels a little disjointed – on one hand, it’s exciting because the story is always changing; but on the other, there’s not enough of a common thread or theme connecting these anecdotes. Sometimes a story ends without being completely resolved, or resolved in too little detail, especially considering how much detail she provides to great effect elsewhere. There were a lot of topics touched on, but not really explored in any meaningful way, even though she shows she’s capable of doing that elsewhere.
She doesn’t shy away from emotional issues, and her bluntness doesn’t indicate that she’d have any reason to refrain from writing in more detail about certain anecdotes. I know life often things unresolved, but it wasn’t an issue of a neatly wrapped up story just not existing, but rather some introspection or detail that would’ve made a good story a great one was lacking. Or to use the creative writing class cliche, there needed to be a little more showing, less telling.
The bright side is that she’s a good writer with what seems to be a lot of stories and a knack for telling them in a light, fun way, so I’m sure she’s going to hone her skills and produce some great writing in the future.
The Clancys of Queens: A Memoir
by Tara Clancy
published October 11, 2016 by Crown
I received an advance copy courtesy of the publisher for review.