Hirsch's favorite haunt is Doyle's Pub, which boasts "one of the longest mahogany bars this side of Galway...and endless platters of fish and chips and onion rings." But food, the author tells us, is not, ultimately, what Doyle's is really about. "It's about sociability, neighborliness, the stretches and strokes of public recreation. Here," she notes, "...we are at home away from home: one family, one tribe, one community."
Standing at a Crossroads
For all her talk of community and belonging, however, I was never able to shake the feeling that Hirsch is more observer than participant, the people she describes as much subjects as friends. She herself says, commenting on this complex process, "To observe, as I've noticed many times ...when I might suppose that I'd stand out most awkwardly, is to be oddly nullified....Either there is something in the observing stance that says, Discount me from the logic of whatever is happening; I am not a player. Or we are all invisible to one another most of the time and just don't take notice of this fact, we are so preoccupied by our own concerns."
Ironically, one of Hirsch's concerns may take her away from the community she celebrates in her book. The schools in J.P. are abysmal, and one by one she watches her friends move to neighboring suburbs — "claustrophobic towns, with their idyllic boutiques and border strip malls and little else in between except, of course, the schools." The author's own son is nearing school age. "Soon," she writes, "I too will stand at this crossroads." One wonders which road she'll choose.
Reviewer Emily d'Aulaire writes from her home in Connecticut.