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Sleeping Arrangements by Laura Shaine Cunningham
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A tender, hilarious and completely readable memoir. Sleeping Arrangements is as much the story of a young girl coming of age in the 50s and 60s as it is a portrait of New York at the same time. At age eight, Lily is orphaned and her two bachelor uncles begin to raise her and take care of their senile mother in a cramped apartment in the Bronx. What begins as a tragedy for Lily ends up a sometimes sad but more often hysterical story of how she learns to negotiate life, love, sex, school, religion and just about everything else, all against the backdrop of the city.

My favorite part of the book is her description of overnight camp. Almost immediately following her mother’s death, and most likely because the family is not sure what to do with her, Lily is sent to Camp Ava where kids examine each other’s vomit to discern which mess hall mystery meal could have made them sick and bully each other in ways vicious and inventive. All Lily wants is to be in a bunk with her best friend, Susan. The battle of wills between Lily and the counselors is funny and painful to witness. We see a young girl lash out in the wake of her mother’s death, but the author’s distance from the events allows her to inject honesty and humor.

Ultimately, Sleeping Arrangements is a thank you to Lily’s uncles Gabe and Len who sacrifice their own lives as young single men to raise Lily in an atmosphere of creativity, freedom and love. The author best explains their lives in the last pages of the book:

While our junior four rang with song and laughter, and became the stage for our amateur theatricals, it would be an unfair simplification to say that we had “a happy home.” Our home was formed in the aftermath of tragedy. We knew we would not live forever, and if that helped us savor every second, our memory of the past also tied us to it. We chose to live with a degree of pain, to preserve memory....We still weep for a woman who died over thirty years ago....We don’t want to be entirely healed; our grief, now subdued and under control, keeps my mother within our family.

Laura Cunningham tells her story with the benefit of hindsight and it is a story she did not tell too soon. She recognizes what she lost and what she gained and the power that came from both. I would recommend this to anyone thinking of writing a memoir, especially about childhood.
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Reading Progress

June 2, 2012 – Shelved
June 29, 2012 – Started Reading
July 1, 2012 – Finished Reading

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