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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Final Guest Post Angela's Ashes...Whew!

Good Day Fellow Readers!

Well it took me 7 days into November to finish our October selection, yikes.  I do not understand how or when I soured on this "Pulitzer Prize" winner but somewhere after the halfway point I felt like "enough already"!!  As I said in my first post, I really liked the connection I made with the American-Irish culture that surrounded me in my youth.  But perhaps it was my sister-in-law's observation that Frankie's dad, Malachy, was really just a bum that made me dread the rest of the book.  I have to say that the last half found me checking constantly on how many pages remained.  The ending in Poughkeepsie NY was really weird.  I had an Uncle that lived in Poughkeepsie that we visited when we were very young (my guess about 14 or 15 years after Frankie's boat docked there!).  It was a very dysfunctional family (my Uncles that is), and so it fit well with the theme of the entire book.

Speaking of the entire book I do have one major unanswered question.  I might well have missed it and I refuse to crack the cover open to try to find the answer.  Just what the heck does the title "Angela's Ashes" refer to?  I do not remember her being cremated, and while I remember references to Frankie's Ash Wednesday experience I cannot recall anything specific about his Mam and ashes.  Can any reader help out here?

Now on to my "food for thought" segment.

First, we just went through a major election, and I think one of the issues the election highlighted is "how much" and "from who" does society in general owe it's citizens in supporting basic needs. Our country seems almost 50/50 split on this issue, and as I read the story I could not help but make some connections to today's issues and Frankie's family life.  We would likely agree that Malachy neglected his paternal responsibility and Angela was a very dysfunctional mother.  As a result some of her children died (and yet two of her son's went on to become successful author's in fact I felt Frankie was strengthened by his hardships).  What struck me was the reluctance of Angela's family to step in and help.  While I understand that times were tough for everyone, and that Malachy and Angela made their own bed, it seemed strange to me that they were reluctant to help the children.  I remember how my father's family took everyone in during the depression and I was somewhat amazed that Angela's family's general attitude seemed to be go beg for help elsewhere, and in particular from the government.  I have always felt that this was a recent phenomena (i.e. how so many families let the government take care of their elderly parents for example) and this gave me pause to reflect that maybe times have not changed all that much.

The second issue for me was the role of the Catholic Church. I have always held a fascination with all things "Catholic" ever since I used to sneak into Mass at St Martins with my friend Danny Pease.  Danny came from an Irish Catholic family, and lived across the street from me with his grandmother, Lucy O'Donnell.  He stayed there most of the time, because his immediate family was in many ways just like Frankie's, an absentee father, dysfunctional mother who lived in public housing "on the dole". He attended parochial schools, with the assistance of the local parish.  While he used to regale us "publics" with tales of getting hit across the knuckles with rulers, switches etc. I always sensed that the Nun's, priests and teachers loved the kids....and genuinely worried about their souls.  While all this may seem quaint now I still believe it was (and remains)  the Catholic Church that most people never consider anymore. Another friend of mine, Joey Judge, was an Irish Catholic from the Kensington section of Philadelphia.  He loved his priests in high school and at one time wanted to be one.  I knew Joey very well and there was never anything "perverted" in his relationships with these men. While it has saddened me (like everyone) to hear of these scandals I remain convinced that the Catholic Church was essentially a force for good in society and I saw this in McCourt's recollections as well.

So readers feel free to add your thoughts (even if you have very different views!).  I have enjoyed sharing my reflections and look forward to my plane ride home from Denver so I can start November's book.

Keep reading!

Murray Rider


  1. My take on the "ashes" was that Angela often sat by the fire and looked at the ashes. Sometimes she didn't have a fire, but still looked at the ashes.
    I couldn't wait to finish the book as well.

  2. Jim- thanks so much for offering to be the guest blogger for October's BOM. It freed me up to recharge my energy and to read some easy, no brain usage books. I enjoyed Angela's Ashes years ago and remember how Malachy drove me crazy with his nonchalant attitude toward his family. Angela , it seemed to me, was always dreaming how life could be different but was unable, or unwilling to make it happen. Maybe the ashes referred to the ashes that her life. Scams.
    I googled Frank McCourt and his died in 2009 of melanoma. He was a teacher in NYC and taught at the HS down the street from our apartment. How's that for coincidence? Check it out on Wikipedia.