The “mesmerizing . . . daring and important”* story of a risk-taking girlhood spent in a working-class prison town
*Andre Dubus III
For Maureen Stanton’s proper Catholic mother, the town’s maximum security prison was a way to keep her seven children in line (“If you don’t behave, I’ll put you in Walpole Prison!"). But as the 1970s brought upheaval to America, and the lines between good and bad blurred, Stanton’s once-solid family lost its way. A promising young girl with a smart mouth, Stanton turns watchful as her parents separate and her now-single mother descends into shoplifting, then grand larceny, anything to keep a toehold in the middle class for her children. No longer scared by threats of Walpole Prison, Stanton too slips into delinquency—vandalism, breaking and entering—all while nearly erasing herself through addiction to angel dust, a homemade form of PCP that swept through her hometown in the wake of Nixon’s “total war” on drugs.
Body Leaping Backward is the haunting and beautifully drawn story of a self-destructive girlhood, of a town and a nation overwhelmed in a time of change, and of how life-altering a glimpse of a world bigger than the one we come from can be.
This jumbled memoir follows Stanton throughout her troubled girlhood in the prison town of Walpole, Mass., as she navigates her parent's divorce and her own drug addiction. After her family moved to Walpole in the mid-1960s, Stanton's mother would drive her and her six siblings by Walpole prison and warn them, "If you misbehave, you'll end up in there." The threat loomed in the background of her seemingly idyllic childhood, until her parents' divorce set grade-schooler Stanton adrift. Stanton's ideas of good and bad blurred if the bad people were inside Walpole prison, why was it okay for her mother to shoplift from the local grocery? Soon, Stanton began shoplifting. During her sophomore year of high school, Stanton tried smoking angel dust, which ramped up to "Dust in the morning, dust at night, dust at school." She would drive around high with friends or hitchhike ("I wonder how I was not raped or killed or both, why was I not brain-damaged, ruined, sent away, locked up"). Eventually, she got counseling and quit angel dust, but she then began snorting cocaine; her path of recovery is not linear. Her writing is clear and thoughtful, yet while Stanton has created a solid portrait of a 1970s prison town, her reminiscences never quite coalesce into a satisfying narrative.