Pull Me Up

Early in his new memoir "Pull Me Up," New York Times columnist Dan Barry writes: "Noreen Barry, née Minogue, originally of Shanaglish parish, County Galway, and lately and sporadically of Sts. Cyril and Methodius parish, Deer Park, Long Island, died on a rainy morning in February; she was all of sixty-one. And that should have been that: another Irish mother dies and another brooding brood is less for it, weeping into its cups, unable to silence that awful old song about how you never miss a mother's love 'til she's buried beneath the clay. "But six months later it was my turn to begin slipping away." Thus does Barry, who pens the poetic "About New York" column in the Times, begin this poignant book which somehow manages to balance the ruthlessness of cancer, the mysteries of Ireland, and the complex sociology of Long Island in the 1960s. The title is a reference to Barry's mother who, in a haze of pain and morphine, often asked her son to pull her up off of the sofa. Yet Pull Me Up does not barrel down the tragic route of, say, O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. For all the pain on display - six months after Barry's mother died, he himself was diagnosed with cancer at age 41 - Barry offers a well-rounded portrait of his Irish Catholic life and times. The youthful sections dealing with his, um, eccentric parents are among the book's strongest. Catholic school was a sometimes brutal place, but it was also where the seeds of reading and writing were planted in young Barry. Much space is also devoted to Barry's love of sports, which verges on the religious. Then there is the climb towards the top of the journalistic heap, which sees Barry, who has shared a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award, become a Pete Hamill or Jimmy Breslin for a new generation. All in all, "Pull Me Up" is a unique spin on the Irish memoir, because it never takes the easy way out. Perhaps that's because Barry, as Pull Me Up suggests, has not yet had the opportunity to take the easy way out. ($24.95 / 323 pages / Norton)

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