Joyce Dyer is searching for what she considers her “missing years,” those first four or five years of life of which few people can salvage many reliable memories. Dyer does remember a few things about when she lived in Goosetown, an Akron neighborhood, but she wonders if her memories are more akin to the product of someone else’s stories or of the few old photographs of herself in Goosetown settings she has studied. Now, along with her elderly uncle, Dyer is traveling the streets of her old neighborhood in search of buildings and street corners that might help her recover memories of a time and place she barely recalls.
Goosetown: Reconstructing an Akron Neighborhood is as much about Dyer’s reconstruction of what she knows about her family as it is about reconstructing the old neighborhood. She finds, despite how little Goosetown now resembles the area she remembers, that the buildings, homes and other physical markers from her youth point her toward truths about herself and her family she never expected to learn. Goosetown may no longer exist, but what it can teach her about her family will change her forever.
Joyce Dyer, in effect, had two sets of parents. Joyce’s mother reacted badly to her birth and was never able to fully accept, or fill, her role as mother to the little girl, and her father dealt with the problem largely by ignoring it and getting on with his own life. Luckily, Joyce’s Aunt Ruth (her mother’s sister) and Uncle Paul were there to give her the love and guidance she did not always get at home. Joyce spent as much time with Ruth and Paul as she spent with her own parents, and she became as much a sister to their son Paul as she was his cousin. She was also close to her young cousins Carol and Eddie, although Eddie was struck and killed on a Goosetown street when he was just five years old.
Now, all these years later, it is her 89-year-old Uncle Paul, a man who has outlived two wives and jokingly calls himself the “Mayor of Goosetown,” who accompanies Dyer on her quest. Paul is there to answer her questions and to put what she learns about her Haberkost grandparents into its proper perspective. Some revelations are triggered by the neighborhood’s geography; others come from her study of public records, family letters and diaries; and still others are mined from the memories of relatives. What she learns about her family’s history of alcoholism, depression and its tendency to suffer from Early-Onset Alzheimer’s explains to her much about the family skeletons she had never really understood.
Near the end of Goosetown, Dyer hints about the skeletons still in her own closet and what remains to be said if she is ever to tell the whole truth - all the things she keeps inside at the risk of her own well-being. Perhaps what she has learned about Goosetown and her family will make it easier for her to reveal the rest of her story. I hope so.
(Look at the book's cover and you'll spot the author in the center of the picture - there's something going on there for sure.)
Rated at: 4.0
(Review copy provided by publisher)