Review of 'Tis:  A Memoir
A Memoir

by Frank McCourt
Scribner, 1999

Frank McCourt, who wrote of his childhood in the best-selling
Angela's Ashes, continues his life story in 'Tis: A Memoir. The new book covers the years from McCourt's return to America in 1949 up to 1985, the year in which his father dies and in which his mother's ashes were bought to Ireland.

Anglea's Ashes, McCourt had written of his very early childhood as the son of Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, and of his family's return to Ireland, where they lived a life of extreme poverty because of the neglect caused by his father's heavy drinking.

'Tis, McCourt tells of his return to New York, where he got a job cleaning the lobby at the Biltmore Hotel. He was drafted into the United States Army and spent time in Germany, where his primary task was typing reports. Back in America, he worked on a loading dock and in various other jobs, while he attended the School of Education at New York University on the "G.I. bill." He then taught at a vocational high school on Staten Island, at some other schools, and finally at Stuyvesant, New York's most prestigious high school.

As to his personal life and family life, McCort married an Episcopalian woman from Rhode Island and had a daughter. His three brothers and eventually his mother returned to New York as well.

The book is a very good one, but not as good as Angela's Ashes. 'Tis provides a lot of detail in the earlier chapters and becomes more selective as it progresses. Although McCourt's humor is enjoyable, one can tire of the story of an adult's life in which all the eents are made to serve as pretexts for humor. And some of the humor is quite repetitive. Repetition, of course, can be used successfully as a literary device, but can at times be merely an annoyance. As examples, McCourt's reeated reference to sexual intercourse as "the excitement" can grow stale. We hear repeatedly that he is not in a state of grace and fears going to confession. When his mother comes to America, we hear not once but several ties that she does not like tea made from tea bags. McCourt's frequent use of the present tense to describe events in the past can be displeasing, although I imagine such writing has its partisans. Nonetheless, the book is on the whole a quite interesting read. Although one could read this book without having read Angela's Ashes, it would be preferable to read the earlier book first. One can then appreciate 'Tis more as a continuation of the story begun in the childhood memoirs. Page List
Subscribe to USA TODAY and get 33% off
click here
Tis, at icon