Friday, September 01, 2006

Jep's Place, a Memoir by Joseph Parzych

Jep's Place is subtitled "Hope, Faith and Other Disasters" and should have been subtitled "A Memoir of Horrible Child Abuse." Joe Parzych grew up during the depression and WWII in dire povertry in Gill, Mass, among 14 brothers and sisters (some step siblings). His parents, Polish immigrants, were harsh and uncaring people, particularly his father, who beat his children mercilessly, often with a leather stropping belt with a buckle. This vile man also refused to take his children to see the doctor when they were ill, and would spend food money on alcohol.He killed and butchered animals in front of his children, picking on Joe in particular, because Joe had a soft spot for animals and would name them and make pets of them. Verbal abuse was also common with both Joes parents, and Joes mother does nothing to stop her husband from harming her children, making her, at best, a coward. One of the main problems with this book is that it is redundant. Joe treats the reader to repeated tellings of his beatings with the leather strop, and every taunt or harmful thing done to him by his family or school mates is chronicled here. While I understand the authors need to write about his awful childhood, I resent having to read the same anecdotes over and over again. I also found 10 obvious typos on my first read-through, which leads me to believe the copy editor that Joe thanks in the "Author's Note" doesn't deserve the recognition. Other than that, I found the "slice of life" descriptions of conditions and wages, costs and cheaters during the depression fascinating. When he wasn't whining or wimpering about not being loved, being beaten, or his sibling's dire plights, Joe has an interesting view of life in an era that seems like ancient history to many of us. And the fact that Joe survived near starvation, hypothermia, severe physical and emotional abuse to enter the Army and have a family of his own makes reading the book all the more miraculous. Many victims of abuse prefer to wallow in bitterness and continue the cycle of abuse by harming their own children. The reader has to assume that Joe did not, in fact, abuse his children, because Joe ends the book with a quick summation of his life after entering the Army, his education, career and his marriage to Edna Carleton, with whom he had four children.He doesn't mention if he was able to parent better than his own father and mother, nor does he explain fully what happened to the 12 siblings who all died, other than one tantalizing mention of his sister Emaline being murdered. I found it amusing that Joe didn't understand his mother's joy at menopause, when she could no longer get pregnant. Yet previously in the book, he discusses her lack of caring, compassion and her lament at having so little money and too many mouths to feed. I am surprised Joe doesn't understand why such a woman, who probably would never have had children at all had she known she would be widowed and then forced to marrry a brute like Pa, would not want to have more children to worry about, to try and struggle to feed, and to clothe,house and care for. One child is difficult, I find, let alone over a dozen. And pregnancy is hard on most women, so I completely understood Joes mother's joy. I would only recommend this book to those who find memoirs of surviving abuse uplifting. I found the book to be a bit too detailed (beatings, blood, gore, etc) and depressing.

No comments: