Haley's Reviews > All Souls: A Family Story from Southie

All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald
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Dec 29, 2011

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Read on December 29, 2011

This book was a strange roller coaster. The first chapter had me riveted, then I slogged through subsequent chapters like a kid taking bitter medicine. I knew it was good for me but my soul felt like it had cramps. I learned a ton from this book about the complexities of the Southie identity, and the history of the busing movement in Boston, and the book's ending was fascinating (and redeeming). I cannot imagine having such a story to tell, and I appreciate that it has been told.

However, having recently read Geoffrey Canada's memoir on violence growing up in New York, I found MacDonald's memoir comparatively vapid, often expressing unexamined nostalgia for what were clearly challenging times both for him and for the neighborhood he profiles. He describes bitter racial tension with the wide eyed innocence of the child he was when busing began in Boston. Consistently referring to violent riots to prevent black kids from entering Southie schools as fun events may make sense in the context of a kid's experience, but in a memoir I wanted more reflection on how this is in fact deeply problematic and disturbing as a variety of community bonding. MacDonald has done great work to improve the lives of people of all races in a plethora of Boston neighborhoods, but he rarely brought any of this experience to the table as he wrote about his early days in Southie. My frustration with the author (both his writing - ok, it's a memoir, maybe not intended to be a work of Art - and his portrayal of complicated issues as relatively simple) mounted as the chapters wore on, and it wasn't until the trial of his younger brother that I started feeling the intense empathy for him and his neighborhood that I had started with at the beginning of the book.

I'd say read it, it's good for you. But be forewarned that it is not terribly well crafted or executed, even though some of the stories he tells are fascinating.
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