Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ghost Light

By Frank Rich

Frank Rich's memoir of growing up in Washington DC in the 1950s and 60s.

Frank's parents divorced when he and his younger sister were quite young. The children didn't handle the divorce well, especially Frank, who was beset by night terrors and sleeplessness.
Not too long after the divorce was finalized, Frank's mother started dating the man who would become her two children's step-father, Joel. It wasn't apparent right away, but Joel was abusive. Not only to his own kids but later on, after the marriage, to Frank, his sister and even his mother.
But Frank had an escape from the torments of home: the theater. At a young age, he developed a passion for theater plays. He spent as much time as he could at the National Theater in DC, and, when opportunity presented, at the mecca of American theater, Broadway in New York City. In fact, that was about the only good thing about Joel, their shared passion for theatrical productions. Joel paid for many trips to NYC for his new family. And, since he had connections to the theater business, could often get his family in to view plays that were already sold out.
The book follows Frank through to his going off to college, about the girls he loved, the show folk he became friends with and his puzzlement over his mother's acquiescence to Joel's brutality. Towards the end, he decides that the benefits that Joel brought to the family outweighed, in his mother's eyes, the negativity.

Before I read this book, I had no idea who Frank Rich was or why I decided to get the book. I still don't know much about him except that he had a rough childhood and loved theater. I enjoyed the book but found the last part a bit slow, a bit of a slog to get through. Although it is always fun and comforting to read about someone else's miserable childhood.

On a side note, I was totally puzzled by this section, where Frank is talking about his bar mitzvah:

"It was a relief when the rabbi decided to perform a radical circumcision on my Haftorah portion because, he said, 'It's not the kind of thing our congregation should be exposed to before lunch.' I wasn't quite sure what he meant until one of my more knowing religious-school classmates looked over the unexpurgate version and cried out: 'Hey, they've given you a rape!'" [Italics are mine.]

I looked up bar mitzvah and rape and all I got was just rape, the assault. I don't what he means here and he doesn't explain the term.

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