Like James Ellroy's, My Dark Places, Down City is a gripping narrative built of memory and reportage, and Leah Carroll's portrait of Rhode Island is sure to take a place next Mary Karr's portrayal of her childhood in East Texas and David Simon's gritty Baltimore.
Leah Carroll's mother, a gifted amateur photographer, was murdered by two drug dealers with Mafia connections when Leah was four years old. Her father, a charming alcoholic who hurtled between depression and mania, was dead by the time she was eighteen. Why did her mother have to die? Why did the man who killed her receive such a light sentence? What darkness did Leah inherit from her parents?
Leah was left to put together her own future and, now in her memoir, she explores the mystery of her parents' lives, through interviews, photos, and police records. Down City is a raw, wrenching memoir of a broken family and an indelible portrait of Rhode Island- a tiny state where the ghosts of mafia kingpins live alongside the feisty, stubborn people working hard just to get by. Heartbreaking, and mesmerizing, it's the story of a resilient young woman's determination to discover the truth about a mother she never knew and the deeply troubled father who raised her-a man who was, Leah writes, "both my greatest champion and biggest obstacle."
In this somber, moving blend of memoir and reportage, native Rhode Islander Carroll confronts the ghosts of her parents two bright, charming, and extremely damaged people, both talented amateur photographers and addicts. Carroll's Jewish mother, carefree and reckless, was snorting cocaine in a motel room with two mafia toughs when they strangled her at age 30. Carroll's Irish-Catholic father, a charismatic autodidact, turned to alcohol after serving in the Vietnam War and was found dead, possibly by his own hand, in a flophouse at 48. Carroll intensively researches their deaths, going so far as to examine her father's autopsy report and interview the imprisoned son of her mother's killer. She explores how they lived while also recounting her troubled childhood. "Down city," a term used by locals to describe central Providence, circumscribes the decaying realm of blue-collar jobs and rough taverns in which her parents lived and died. Carroll's understated prose complements this daunting material, and her struggles as an unhappy, rebellious teen seem almost idyllic in contrast to the dysfunction and tragedy that shadow her. Nevertheless, Carroll's determined grappling with the burden of her past is honestly and skillfully done.