Across the Page: Memoir

on

If you believe a writer should only pen a memoir if she has

a truly interesting story to tell and can tell it honestly and sincerely, look

no further than Little Chapel on the

River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most
by Gwendolyn Bounds;

Nightlight: A Memoir by Janine Avril;

and Michelle Tea’s classic The Chelsea Whistle.

Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What

Matters Most
by Gwendolyn Bounds
(Harper Paperbacks)



In the fall of 2001, journalist Gwendolyn (Wendy) Bounds

thought she had it all: a job writing about fashion at the Wall Street Journal, an apartment in downtown Manhattan, and a beautiful girlfriend named

Kathryn.

Then came Sept. 11, and everything changed. Bounds and

Kathryn, who were forced to flee lower Manhattan

that fateful morning, lost their home. Days later, after rescuing their cat

from their condemned apartment building, they did what many other New Yorkers

were forced to do: They began to search for a new home.

Little Chapel on the

River
is a record of that search, a journey that takes Bounds to Garrison, N.Y., a town by

the banks of the Hudson River. What Garrison lacks

in size — it’s so small it does not necessarily qualify for "official town

status" — it makes up for in heart.

At the center of Garrison is the famous Guinan’s, a tiny

Irish pub and country store. Bounds is immediately enchanted by the

establishment — its rustic and comfortable setting, charming proprietor Jim

Guinan and his children, and the distinctive patrons who are treated like

family.

Needing more than just a new place to call home, Bounds also

finds a family at Guinan’s. As New

York and the country begin their slow recovery, she

immerses herself in this new life, a life very different from the one she led

in the city.

At the end of each chapter, Bounds includes a memory from

her childhood, usually one about her grandfather. The vignettes are well-placed

and offer insight into how her background informs her connection with Guinan’s,

and with Jim in particular.

Bounds’ sexuality is not an issue in the small town, but her

coming out to Jim is one of the more tender moments of the story. Because she

doesn’t correct him the first time he asks how her "sister" is, she

is unsure how to backtrack. ("Maybe he means ‘sister,’" Kathryn jokes.)

Finally, one afternoon while they’re alone watching TV,

Bounds explains the relationship to Jim. "I swallow hard. Kathryn’s not my

sister, you know, I tell him, feeling my face get hot. The next thought is

habit: What if he doesn’t like me

anymore?
I’m a grown adult and this is still hard."

Jim does accept her: "From that day on, whenever we see

each other, Jim now makes a point to ask: ‘And how’s Kathryn?’ It’s a slight

alteration of the question, but it says it all."

In beautiful and lyrical prose, Bounds shows how moving to

Garrison forces her to slow down and pay attention to both her interior and

exterior worlds. She adopts a dog. She buys a house. She takes care of her

neighbors and allows them to take care of her. She thinks about starting a

family.

"This is the story of a place, the kind of joint you

don’t find around much anymore," Bounds writes, "a spot where people

wander in once and return for a lifetime." Little Chapel on the River is about the importance of home — not

only the people in it, but the actual place.

Nightlight: A Memoir by Janine Avril (Alyson Books)



If Chapel on the River

shows how strangers can become family, Janine Avril’s powerful Nightlight is about just the opposite.

"A secret is something told to protect you and, in many

ways, it does. It shields you from that which will make your life more

painful," Avril writes in the beginning of her memoir. "On the other

hand, that which you don’t know is still there, continually shaping your

life."

Nightlight is the

story of Avril’s attempt to uncover her family’s secrets, no matter how

painful. Barely a teenager when her mother dies of cancer, Avril is so numb

from the loss that she can barely say goodbye. She is haunted by the guilt that

she had been ashamed of her mother’s ailing body, a guilt her father does not

allow her to escape: "I was filled with shame about my family, but far

worse was the shame I felt toward myself."

Shortly after her mother’s death, Avril’s father, a

successful French chef and restaurateur, throws a "motherless Mother’s

Day" party. He refuses to invite Avril’s maternal grandparents and instead

fills the house with "topless women" and "pranc[es] around

jovially in his skin-tight green Speedo."

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