"Shortly after Alyse Myers’s mother dies, Alyse and her sisters are emptying her mother’s apartment, trying to decide what to discard and what to keep. Alyse covets only one thing — a wooden box that sits in the back of a closet. Its contents have been kept from Alyse her entire life. That box, she hopes, will contain answers to her questions: Who were her parents really, and why did her mother settle for so very little in her life?
Growing up during the 1960s in a working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, Alyse’s home is not a happy one. Her parents argue constantly and after the death of Alyse’s father, her mother at age thirty-three is left with three young girls. While her mother retreats to the kitchen table with her cigarettes and bitterness, determined to stay there forever, Alyse yearns for more in life, including the right to escape. After a childhood of harrowing fights, abject cruelty, and endless uncertainty, Alyse adamantly rejects everything about her mother’s life, provoking her mother’s infuriated demand, “Who do you think you are?" from Alyse Myers' website.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alyse Myers lives in New York City with her husband and daughter. This is her first book.RELATED ESSAYS:
City Section/The New York Times
"Her Hard-Knock Life"
By Alyse Myers
"In 1957, when I was 1 and my mother was pregnant with my middle sister, my parents moved from a tenement on the Lower East Side to a one-bedroom apartment in Ravenswood Houses, a public housing project in Long Island City, Queens."
Lives Column/The New York Times Magazine
"How I Met My Mother"
By Alyse Myers
"For much of our life together, my mother and I hated each other. The way I saw it, I spent most of my childhood fighting with her — or trying to get away from her bitterness, her unhappiness and her endless smoking. As a teenager, I learned how to defend myself with words that were designed to hurt and could never be taken back. In return, she vowed that one day I would have a daughter who would feel the way about me that I felt about her."WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
“My mother had only one boyfriend—and she married him. She told me that they had met in school when she was fourteen and he was fifteen. My mother was a former tom boy who lost her baby fat almost overnight, she used to tell me—the good girl from the good family with the bluest of blue eyes. I had always wanted her eyes.” And so Alyse Myers begins her memoir about her mother and growing up in
, a blue collar, working class neighborhood, during the 1960s. Queens, New York
The last chapter ends with “I hugged my daughter. I was my mother’s daughter”. Thus perhaps making one think of the story in between as being a tale of a mother and daughter relationship with its ups and down but one that was a happy life for Alyse. Ah, but that ISN’T the story of WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? that lies within this beginning and ending.
Instead WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? is a story of Alyse growing up with two sisters in a home where her parents fought for what seemed like constantly. Alyse was more a “Daddy’s girl” than her sisters and so when he was away as he traveled a lot from what Alyse knew, she was miserable. Her mother would hang his big leather belt for them to see so they knew she wasn’t afraid to use it on them. Living under this constant fear and in this dysfunctional family, it is amazing that Alyse survived to be the person she it today. Often, her mother would scream at her and hold her responsible for anything that was going wrong. When her mother was angry she would verbally abuse Alyse with constant haranguing and accusations. Unlike her sisters, Alyse was made to feel like everything she did was wrong and her mother was unrelenting. Thus the title for when she would get like this, she would say to Alyse “Who do you think you are?”.
When Alyse was eleven years old, her father died, and her world crashed down around her. The arguments with her mother got worse until as a teenager she could stay no more thinking distance would help but it didn’t as her mother’s abuse showed no boundaries. It is only later in life when her mother becomes sick and is dying that Alyse is able to have some reconciliation with her. When Alyse was a child, her mother had shown her a wooden box that Alyse thought might have been something made by her father in a shop class. She asked what was in it and true to her character, her mother said she would find out after she was dead…it would be the gift she would leave to Alyse. And so when Alyse’s mom does die, it is the one thing she really wants as she and her sisters go through her mother’s things in the apartment where she lived those last years and where she died. Alyse takes it but doesn’t open it for twelve years until she has a daughter of her own. What is in that box? Will it be something to further hurt Alyse? Will it explain some of her mother’s actions all those years, or will it merely be empty?
I found this memoir to be an easy read as Ms. Myers’ style of writing is well paced and reader friendly, as if she is speaking directly to you. I also was able to read this one quickly and especially in that I wanted to find out what was in that box. Much has been written about Alyse Myers coming out and saying to the world that she hated her mother…normally taboo and a deal breaker. However, in this memoir it is an essential part of the truth that comes out and helps one to understand Mrs. Myers’ actions and the impact her parents’ relationship has on her life as a wife and mother. And lastly, there is the box that really leaves the reader thinking about this story long after one has finished it. Recommend this to those who enjoy a well written memoir. The Library Journal is quoted in its review saying “Her journey has universal resonance for myriad readers”. I couldn’t agree more. Check out this link (http://www.alysemyers.com/news.php)
for Alyse Myers’ appearance on THE VIEW where she is interviewed and discusses her book WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
Saturday, June 6, 2009
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
BY ALYSE MYERS
Posted by Bingo at 6:00 PM