Joanna's Reviews > Goosetown: Reconstructing an Akron Neighborhood

Goosetown by Joyce Dyer
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's review
Feb 15, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 100-books-2010, non-fiction
Read in February, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Our old teachers never run out of lessons for us.

Goosetown is the third memoir written by my former professor and lifelong teacher, Joyce Dyer. This book focuses on the first five years of her life, a time before the brain really seems to hold many solid memories. It is simultaneously the story of her early childhood, a family history, and a loving recreation of the Akron neighborhood known as Goosetown.

The combination of Dyer's reflective voice and superior writing make Goosetown an extremely rewarding and worthwhile read. The book is composed of short chapters, so short they are almost vingettes, which peel back layers of history and meaning with lovingly crafted precision. She is equal parts storyteller, character, and historian - which fascinates the reader as the narrative of her personal history unfolds.

Goosetown made me think about my own earliest memories. What I actually remember myself, as opposed to what memories have been created out of whole cloth from family stories and pictures. This line of thinking is also interesting within the context of Joyce Dyer's writing about Alzheimers, as this book comes from an author who is very aware of her family history with a disease that steals, erases, and muddles memory. For me, this makes the reclaiming of early memory seem all the more challenging and poignant in comparison.

There are so many parts of this book that I am still thinking about. Some of them main points, but some of them almost incidental to the story. There is a section when JD talks about her grandmother's windows overlooking the church on one side, and the parsonage on the other. Which leads to wonderful ruminations on how what we see outside our windows changes who we are inside our own homes, and inside ourselves. There is a very memorable description of our lives at sixty being represented by the hands on a clock, the first five years as the first five minutes, etc. It was startling to think of my own life as such, to contemplate the minute hand have ticked ever so slightly past the midway point. There is a remarkable single page chapter, after the author has discovered a courthouse record of her grandfather's jail sentence, listing all of the things she herself has stolen in her life, and how a litany of small things (lipstick, flowers) takes on a different significance as she begins to identify as the grand daughter of a thief.

But perhaps the most intruiging element of the book, for me, came in Chapter 32, when Joyce Dyer provides some insights into the nature of writing about the living and the dead in light of the things that we do and do not say. She makes mention of a chronic illness she has, but has never written about. She alludes to an extremity of despair, horrible disappointments, and terrible shocks which she has likewise never confronted on the page. She concludes this passage with the words, "My grandparents were both thieves. And I'm a thief too: I sometimes steal the truth because I lack the courage to tell it."
Someone (Natalie Goldberg?) once said that the best writing is what stops you in your tracks. It is what grabs you by your collar and forces you to pay attention. Which is exactly what this does. It's risky and elusive and amazing. It pulled me out of myself, and when it put me back, I was a bit different, a little changed.


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