A scholar’s memoir of growing up and the powerful forces that shaped her as a woman and a writer; “her story will inspire all women” (Library Journal).
In this honest and outspoken reflection on her childhood, Louise DeSalvo explores the many ways literature saved her, both emotionally and practically. Born to Italian immigrants during World War II, DeSalvo takes readers back to the emotional chaos of her 1950s girlhood in New Jersey, growing up with her authoritative, distant father, her depressed mother, and a sister who later committed suicide. Reading and research were an anchor to her then, and widened her choices about her future in ways that weren’t otherwise available to girls of that era.
A Virginia Woolf scholar, DeSalvo wrote a ground-breaking study on the impact of childhood sexual abuse on the reclusive writer. Here, she mines her own early days—and her adolescent obsession with Hitchcock’s Vertigo—in an attempt to give her own life’s path “some shape, some order.”
Publisher’s Weekly said, “Her clarity of insight and expression make this [memoir] an impressive achievement,” and the San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed, “DeSalvo has one of the most refreshing feminist voices around.”
DeSalvo (Conceived with Malice) frankly, and wisely, states that her memories of how she grew from a working-class, Italian American child in Hoboken to become a Virginia Woolf scholar may not be accurate because memory cannot always be trusted. This account, with its emphasis on her early years, is the way it seems to her to have been. Her happiest time, she claims, was during WWII, when the world as she saw it was composed only of women and children (she was only three at the war's end). Then the men returned and life became grim. Later her mother became depressed and was institutionalized, her sister committed suicide, she herself was sexually abused by a female family member. Books and the public library were her refuge. In hindsight she finds parallels between her life and Virginia Woolf's that might escape a casual reader. She also sees them in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, which she saw 11 times in one week when she was 15. A more exuberant period came in suburban Ridgefield, N.J., during what she calls her boy crazy period: "I have, in quick succession, `dated' the entire starting line up of my high school's basketball team... many of its football players, all the baseball infielders, and a few wrestlers." DeSalvo clearly has a sense of humor, and although her success in life--she repeatedly stresses the problems of being Italian, working class and a "girl"--may not be as unique as she seems to think, her clarity of insight and expression makes this an impressive achievement.