Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ISBN 9781328900234
Hardcover, $26, 215 pages
Maureen Stanton's coming-of-age memoir in her working-class prison town in the 1970s, Body Leaping Backward- A Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood, appealed to me for many reasons. I too grew up in a working-class prison town in the 1970s, and I came from a Catholic family with many children.
Stanton took me right back to those days- kids playing Flashlight Tag or dodgeball, waiting to hear their mother's voice calling them in for dinner, riding bikes all over town, piling everyone in the car to go to the drive-in movies.
Coming from a large family, (there were seven Stanton children) I could relate to her mom meticulously dividing up a bag of M&Ms so that each child got exactly the same amount. I vividly recall going to confession at church, and, like Maureen, worrying about what sins I would have to confess to (you don't want to keep repeating yourself week after week, but what kind of sins can a young child commit?).
I found Stanton's memories of Walpole prison interesting. The prison occupied a large presence in the town, both physical and emotional, although I don't recall my mother threatening us with ending up in the local prison if we misbehaved, like her mother frequently did.
The Stantons would visit the Hobby Shop, a gift shop located just inside the prison walls, where anyone could buy furniture, jewelry, dollhouses and crafts made by inmates. Most of the children's rooms were furnished from here. The man who ran the shop was a famous Boston mobster, and convicted Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo made jewelry that was sold in the hobby shop. (The town I grew up in did not have a retail shop so I found this fascinating and very strange.)
Life changed drastically for the Stantons when their parents divorced and their father moved out when Maureen was twelve years old. Money became scarce, and her mother resorted to shoplifting to feed the family. Eventually, her mother went back to school to become a nurse. She went to school all day, came home to do homework, and then fed her family dinner. It was a difficult life.
By the time she was in tenth grade, Maureen was using angel dust (PCP). Angel dust causes you to lose depth perception and balance, causes difficulties in concentration, and apathy. It's a serious drug, and Maureen and her friends were using it frequently. She began skipping school, stealing, became involved in petty crime. (She thought this was typical teenage behavior, but I did not relate to that.)
Stanton weaves in historical context to give the reader a good sense of what life was like at that time. Bomb scares were rampant in the 1970s, and "between 1971 and the end of 1972, the FBI reported 2500 bombings on US soil, an average of five bombings per day". Overall, crime rose in the 1970s, and the town of Walpole was no exception.
In her junior year of high school, Maureen got a job at a gas station, where she earned work-study credits, and learned a lot about life based on the customers that she waited on. She also met a man who helped her reconnect with her love of literature and writing.
She took a writing class in college, and when her mother found Maureen's high school diaries while moving, Maureen used that as the basis for this powerful memoir. Stanton's writing is crisp and poignant, like this sentence she writes describing her parents telling the children about their separation- "A tear slipped down my father's cheek, and then like a chorus we all cried, our last act as an intact family."
If you came of age in the 1970s, Body Leaping Backward will take you back to that time. Fans of Mary Karr's The Liar's Club should put this one on their list.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Maureen Stanton's tour. The rest of the stops are here: