Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: The House On Crash Corner

Reviewed by Christina
[I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Published: 2011

It's about: Mindy Greenstein is a psycho-oncologist, cancer survivor, and mother of two young boys. She grew up in Brooklyn, the child of two holocaust survivors who both had serious gambling problems. The House on Crash Corner is her collection of autobiographical essays.

I thought: You know how women of a certain age (ok, my age) have all read Bossypants this year and now consider Tina Fey their favorite celebrity best friend? Well, I feel that way about Mindy Greenstein after reading The House On Crash Corner. This book is like a series of discussions with a candid, funny, articulate friend who has all kinds of interesting experiences to share.

First of all, I mean, WOW, what a background! Ms. Greenstein's parents are these incredible characters with fantastic back stories of their own; her mother didn't have any formal schooling past first grade, and her father only finished eighth before WWII made them refugees. They're observant, traditional Jews, they spoke Yiddish at home (little Mindy learned English from TV), and they gambled like nobody's business. The early essays in this collection, especially, are full of Yiddish proverbs and superstitions and interesting tidbits about what life is like for observant Jews. (And if you know anything about me you probably know how much I loved these parts.)

The essays about cancer counseling and the author's own experience with breast cancer will probably be most touching for readers who share a connection there. But I still found them interesting and, in a non-cheesy way, uplifting. The essays about early motherhood spoke more to me: I appreciated their honesty and emotional integrity. I think my favorite thing about the book is the sweet yet level-headed way she deals with sensitive subjects (cancer, mommyhood, WWII survival) while sidestepping the sentimentality that tends to seep in with first-hand accounts of major life events. That would be difficult to do.

My only real complaint (besides the clunky title and the hideous cover that looks like it was designed by a middle-schooler) is that the book as a whole didn't feel very cohesive. There's a LOT of material here- a book about the older generation, a book about Mindy as a little girl, a book about being a psycho-oncologist, a book about her own battle with cancer. I guess I would have preferred more about each of these subjects in a series of essay collections.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf! I can't figure out why this wasn't picked up by a major publisher. It really is very entertaining, original, and well-written.

Reading Recommendations: Essays are nice because you can read a few here and a few there. I guess that's not really a recommendation. I'll also say that this collection is a very quick read, thanks to the conversational style and its being less than 200 pages long.

Warnings: Uh, I sorta forgot to notice. Maybe a couple of swears? Nothing big.

Favorite excerpts:
"I remember one night when I was around eight. [My mother and I] were standing at the pantry, which was a closet off the kitchen. We were searching for a spice requested by the current batch of freeloading relatives, who just happened to be visiting at dinnertime, again. I decided to ask my mother about a new word I'd heard from one of the kids at school.
'Ma, what's a lesbian?'
'Shhh. Not so loud.' Her voice dropped. 'It's a woman who loves other women.'
'Then I'm a lesbian for you, Mommy!' I yelled, throwing my arms around her.
'Ssshhhhhhh! Sshhhhh!' she whisper-yelled back as she hugged me, too. Then we turned back to our uninvited guests, my mother red from embarrassment, and me smiling and happy- even though I wished those pesky relatives would go away and leave us lesbians alone."

What I'm reading next: The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore