The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, ©1998
My mother is sewing a button on my father’s shirt while he’s still wearing it. “I was having this terrible feeling,” she says, “that she’d be this forty-year-old woman, going around telling people that we took her d-o-l-l away from her.” She leans down to bite off the thread. My father tests his new button and it works perfectly. “In three days she won’t remember she even knew that d-o-l-l,” he predicts.But of course Beard remembers, and tells, in this non-linear collection of linked personal essays. They’re coming-of-age essays, where growing up is as likely to occur at thirty as at thirteen or three. Each age is rendered perfectly, as are the characters and the 1970s-80s period details of small-town Midwest.
Among the boys of Beard’s youth are Hal, that beloved d-o-l-l her mother’s oldest sister bullies her mother into throwing away; teenage boys who mostly ignore her at backwoods parties; her father who drinks and disappears for weeks at a time; Eric: boyfriend, husband, …; and a school-shooter in the University of Iowa physics department on a day Beard has gone home early to care for her aging dog. There are girls, too -- aunts and cousins; her older, nemesis sister; her mother who smokes on every page; a lifelong best friend she consults while writing these essays.
I love these people and their settings, love Beard’s writing and want more. I've also read her new novel In Zanesville, the first half of which feels exactly like these essays. I'm still scouring the Internet for anything else she's written.