Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF
 

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. i-vi

CONTENTS

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. vii-viii

Prologue

Ghost Writer

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. ix-xx

read more

Lifeboat

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 1-16

“Gather courage.”
This is what my father tells me as I cling to the gunwale of an ashen rowboat somewhere in the middle of Lake George. I’m sixteen years old; I’m swimming across Lake George; it’s 1959; my family is vacationing at a cabin in Bolton Landing on the shore of Lake George; the cabin we’re renting comes with this old boat my father rows beside me as I swim. (I’d wanted to rent a new one, but he insisted on this old one. “You can count on old boats,”...

read more

Cutting the Bread

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 17-28

My grandmother is in the kitchen cutting the Italian bread she has made. The bread my grandmother has made is a big bread, a substantial bread, one you can use for dunking, or for scraping the last bit of sauce from a bowl of pasta, or for breaking into soups or stews, or for eating with a little olive oil and a shake of salt, or with the juices of a very ripe tomato and some very green olive oil....

read more

Dark White

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 29-43

My father calls to tell me he’s been cleaning out his files. He’s found some documents I might want, he says, because I’ve recently asked him about my immigrant Italian grandparents. I ask what they are.
“Oh, naturalization papers, visas, some birth records, death certificates,” he says. “Nothing really important.”
I tell him to bring them over right away, for to me they are important. I know that if I don’t claim them immediately, they’ll wind up in the trash...

read more

Passing the Saint

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 44-57

It would happen like this: A knock on the crackled glass of the door to our tenement apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey. My mother, not expecting a visitor, opening it as she would for anyone who troubled to climb the four steep flights of stairs. She had nothing to fear, not now. She knew that if the visitor were a stranger, if he got to our door, he would have been stopped, thoroughly checked out, and granted passage up to our apartment by one of the young men hanging out on the corner of Fourth and Adams in front of...

read more

White on Black

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 58-65

Most days, as I was growing into young womanhood, my old Italian grandmother used to sit silently all day long, very close to the radiator in a corner of the dining room of our house in Ridgefield, New Jersey, her old black shawl covering her shoulders, as she crocheted white tablecloths and knit sweaters or afghans from wool she’d unraveled from sweaters we’d outgrown, outworn, or despised, or from wool she’d unraveled from sweaters she’d scavenged from dustbins or bought from second-hand stores....

read more

Fourteenth Street

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 66-86

When my father was in his mid-twenties, he thought it was time he started looking for a wife. He was living in North Bergen, New Jersey, with his parents and four sisters, and his best friend told him about a friend of his girlfriend’s, who was Italian and movie-star beautiful. She worked in the shoe department at Grant’s in Hoboken and he could go there to meet her.
My father recognized her at once from his friend’s description—her womanly figure, her dignified bearing, her dark hair caught in a snood at the...

read more

The House of Early Sorrows

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 87-101

From my cot in the room that I share with my parents in the tenement on Adams Street in Hoboken, New Jersey, I can see a holy picture of Jesus Christ on the cross, tucked into a corner of the mirror opposite me.
The picture is small. Just a few inches wide, a few inches tall, and laminated, so it reflects the light. I am just a child, and each time I look to the mirror, what I see terrifies me. It’s not my face I see—my attention is directly drawn to what I will one day learn is a representation of the Crucifixion. A...

read more

My Sister’s Suicide

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 102-121

My basement is a complete mess, and has been for years.
When my father remarries after my mother’s death, he sells the house I grew up in, and most of its furniture, except for the three pieces I take. He packs up our family’s mementos and tells me if I don’t want them, he’ll dispose of them.
I’m furious he’s chosen to bring very little from his first life—his clothes, his tools, a few photos of my mother (but none of my family or me or my...

read more

breathless, adjective

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 122-139

I am alone, walking on my favorite beach in Sag Harbor, on the eastern end of Long Island. It is just after sunset on a warm day in late spring. I try to ignore the trouble I’m having breathing, the coughing attack that has continued, unabated, for the past two hours, the slamming inside my head, my fatigue. Tell myself that maybe this illness I’ve had for seven months, which no doctor can diagnose, is all in my head. If that’s so, maybe it’s something I can control. But even if I can’t control it, maybe I can work on my attitude....

read more

V and I

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 140-161

The year is 1975.
I am thirty-two years old, married, the mother of two small children, a Ph.D. candidate, on a charter flight to England with a friend to do research on Virginia Woolf at the University of Sussex in Falmer. This is the first time in my whole life that I am going away without a member of my family. I have no idea where Falmer is, except that it is near Brighton. We have no hotel reservations. We have no idea how we will get to Brighton. But we are gloriously drunk on our third sherry, free from the responsibility of our...

read more

Adultery Stories

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 162-178

Unless you consciously (or unconsciously) want to propel yourself into committing adultery, reading about it isn’t such a good idea. Because reading about it, I can assure you, will almost certainly result in your thinking about doing it, and perhaps even in your doing it.
Dante understood this. For in the Inferno of his Divine Comedy, he recounts the story of the beginning of the adulterous affair between Paolo and Francesca....

read more

Old Flame

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 179-192

I saw him once in all these years, walking up the steep hill from the bus stop, past my parents’ house, on his way home to the house where he lived with his wife. I was outside on the lawn that day with my two boys, interfering in one of their arguments, this one, about which of them was the faster runner, separating them while they tried to pummel each other, shouting at them to cut it out, telling them if they didn’t cut it out we’d go home, they’d have time-outs, they’d lose their TV time for a week, and they’d miss their...

read more

Moving On

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 193-206

When our moving company delivers boxes to the house in Teaneck, New Jersey, where I’ve lived for more than thirty years, and dumps them onto the floor of our living room, the place I sometimes retreat to in late afternoon to drink a cup of tea and gaze out the stained-glass window to the trees beyond our neighbor’s house across the street, I begin to live in that liminal space you inhabit when you’re moving. After the boxes arrived, I entered what the composer and writer Allen Shawn called the “huge crisis” of moving...

Acknowledgments

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 207-212