1963 Mexico, Maine: The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on the fathers’ wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when this family of now-only-women (Monica is one of four daughters) is set adrift. Incandescent, funny, and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how a family saves itself–first by depending on Father Bob, youngest brother of Monica’s mother, a Catholic priest who feels his new family responsibilities deeply. And then, as the nation is shocked by the loss of its handsome Catholic president, Jackie Kennedy’s televised grace restores the Woods–who are now strong enough themselves to stage an unprecedented family roadtrip to Washington, DC, to save Father Bob from his own griefs. An indelible story of how family and nation, each shocked by the unimaginable, exchange one identity for another.
(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)
Every few years, a memoir comes along that revitalizes the form, that takes us by the hand and leads us into the dream world of our collective past from which we emerge more wholly ourselves . . . When We Were the Kennedys is a deeply moving gem!
~ Andre Dubus III , author of House of Sand and Fog and Townie
Monica Wood has written in poetic language a poignant and moving memoir. Beginning on an ordinary morning, like any other morning in her childhood home, Wood takes us through the routine. Family members are introduced to the reader with enough detail for them to become as real as our own family members.
Living in a small industrial town in Maine–Mexico, Maine–in the early 1960s, most heads of households worked at the local paper mill. Fourth grader Monica is startled to learn her father has died of a heart attack on his way to work. What does this mean for her? For her family? How will each one cope? Wood’s reaction to this unexpected event, the realization anyone can be taken at any time, is a raw and moving scene.
We were an ordinary family;” she writes, “a mill family, not the stuff of opera. And yet…my memory of that day reverberates down the decades as something close to music. Emotion, sensation, intuition. I see the day—or chips and bits, as if looking through a kaleidoscope—but I also hear it, a faraway composition in the melodious language of grief…”
As Monica watches her mother struggle with depression and immobility following her husband’s death, she also watches the closing of the paper mill on which so many rely and then the assassination of President Kennedy. It is this last event which pulls her mother back to life as she witnesses another woman from a different societal class come to grips with her own husband’s sudden death.
Although Monica doesn’t hesitate to share the pain and anguish of her story, she does bring her story to a focus on hope and healing and the amazing strength and love found in family and faith.
I recommend this memoir to you, especially if you have not yet read a memoir. Monica Wood’s poetic prose makes her story beautiful and lyrical. As a nonfiction work, it is one which holds the reader’s interest and admiration for this young family who has lost their husband and father.
Miscellaneous: Learn more about Monica Wood, her fiction works, and her writing tips via her website.