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Showing 1-3 of 3 reviews(3 star). Show all reviews
on December 3, 2000
Here is a memoir that deserved far more care in editing than it received. As a result, the misspellings and anachronisms seriously detract from the pleasure of reading about one of the most eccentric families ever. As the overactive only child of two truly fascinating people, Catherine Gildiner started working in her father's pharmacy at the age of four. Her adventures with customers and with her peers, but most especially with her parents are told with great good humor and kindness. Unfortunately, the problems mentioned above get in the way so badly that it made for tedious, sometimes maddening reading of what would, with judicious editing, have been a wonderful autobiographical piece. Just to cite two examples: the Jackie Gleason show aired on Saturday nights, not on Fridays. And the spelling of famous names often varies within a single paragraph.
Unfortunate, too, are the last few chapters. They come as a letdown to an otherwise thoroughly engaging memoir. Ms. Gildiner deserved far better treatment. One can only hope that her next publisher/next editor will do the job right.
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on December 18, 2009
Too Close to the Falls is supposed to be a true story; it comes off as surreal bio that strains credulity. I purchased Catherine Gildiner's book and her sequel after hearing her being interviewed on CBC radio. In that delightful interview she spoke of times in her life covered in both books. She is an excellent, humourous oral racconteur. Alas, her speaking skills do not translate as well to the written page. It is a good read, to be sure and it easily passed my test of interest, reading uninterupted by other books' attention.

The fault I find is her attempt to capture the innocent's POV so many years later while relating details which would have had little meaning to a child but which the author must explain to make the story meaningful.

The author is of my generation and the references she makes ring true. But that they were experienced by one so young ( age four to eight for much of the tale ) is difficult to imagine. The nub of her story is her early bestriding of the child/adult worlds enabled by her unconventional parents. Her mother in particular stands out as a work of fancy rather than reality. She strikes me as tragi-comical, a combination of Blanche Dubois and June Cleaver.

The sequel should prove easier to accept, as Catherine's life as teenager should be free of the aforementioned drawbacks.
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on August 9, 2000
What an enticing opportunity, reading what a grade school classmate remembers about a childhood shared. Born in 1948, brainy, skinny, tall, "only children" born to older parents, Cathy and I not only lived a short block apart but had much in common in our childhood in Lewiston. Having survived Sisters Adele and Mother Agnese with Cathy, I looked forward with more than a little interest to reading her memoir, "Too Close to the Falls".
I was not surprised to find it written with an authenticity of style that is striking and a voice that kept me turning pages. But memory plays tricks on us and I found some of the book puzzling, although I admit more than a few decades of time may contribute to the haze of memory.
And although I was not looking for some rosy view of the Lewiston of old, I did take notice of what was missing. It's truly not an issue of my memories being confined only to the romance of finding arrowheads in the yard, picking up mail at the post office before delivery to homes began, of being an Irish girl learning to polka with the German Fermoile family down the block, or my first kiss in the balcony of the theatre in Niagara Falls. I was hoping that Cathy would not only share more of the sweet and innocent minutia of the small town, not to mention Catholic parish life on the Niagara frontier in the 50s; but would examine those things that when combined, for good or bad, made us the people we are today.
I may have been looking for Cathy's explanation of what it was that was imparted to us within those big double doors of Hennepin Hall, which gave us the belief even 40 some years later, that the earth was a good place and a world view that asked us to be more than we are and give more than we got.
What was it about our impossible placement for 4th grade, in 2 adjoining rooms in the big white mansion that was Hennepin Hall, taught by the overwrought Sister Adele who spent her days scurrying back and forth while classmates did, as 4th graders will, their best to disrupt whatever room was without a keeper? How was it that the sexist separation on the playground (boys on the west side of the building, girls on the east) taught us something?
Instead of tales of our young "assistant" priest with the motorcycle I would have prefered reflections on a church community where on Sundays in July it was so hot that it made the dye Jessie Hanrahan's magenta silk hat run in finger-paint like rivers down her forehead.
It could be true that I was looking for a moral of the story or Cathy's psychological insights into how our experiences somehow gelled to give us a sense of community, a sense of right and wrong, an ability to put words together and to draw conclusions and see subtleties and yes, perhaps one can't indeed go home again.
While fine as a work of semi-fiction, some details don't hold up under scrutiny to someone who was there. With the mere addition of an introduction much could have been done to explain individuals being combined to create a character, or the addition of a grade 6 that did not exist in reality. In short, I liked what I got, but expected more.
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