The Last Street Before Cleveland: An Accidental Pilgrimage
Book: The Last Street Before Cleveland: An Accidental Pilgrimage , by Joe Mackall, ISBN10: 0803232551, ISBN13: 9780803232556, UNP - Nebraska, April 2006, Hardcover
Joe Mackall is an associate professor of English and journalism at Ashland University and the editor of the nonfiction journal River Teeth. His essays have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies as well as on National Public Radio. He has also worked as a reporter for several newspapers, including the Washington Post.
The old neighborhood was the place Joe Mackall left. It was a place where everyone's parents worked at the factory at the dead end of the street, where the Catholic church and school operated like a religious city hall, and where a boy like Joe grew up vowing to get out as soon as he could and to shed his blue-collar beginnings and failed, flawed religion. When the mysterious death of a childhood friend draws him back to the last street before Cleveland, however, he discovers that there is more to "old haunts" than mere words—and more to severing one's roots than just getting away.
The Last Street Before Cleveland chronicles Mackall's descent into his past: the story of how, looking for answers about his lost friend, he stumbles on larger questions about himself. With clear-eyed candor, Mackall describes the resurfacing of dormant demons, the opening of the old chasms of depression and addiction, and the discovery, at rock bottom, of a flickering faith that casts a surprising light over everything that has come before. Mackall's is, finally, a story about life—lived and lost, given and earned.
Mackall returns to his childhood blue-collar stomping grounds when a friend dies, for reasons he doesn't fully explain in this focused but gloomy memoir. Mackall, an English and journalism professor at Ohio's Ashland University, recounts the working-class culture of the 1970s Midwest and tells of how his Italian immigrant grandfather, fleeing the mob, made his way to suburban Cleveland. Mackall's elegy for the workers' world employs delightful language (after all, he's a "card-carrying nostalgist" with a knack for one-liners). However, he struggles in writing about his present despair, about what he lacks and what he hopes to find by returning to Cleveland. As Mackall begins to doubt the efficacy of his search, spiraling into isolation and a renewed drug addiction, his prose dries up, as does the narrative's concentration on his illuminating memories. "Aching to drag the past" into his lungs, he begins to contemplate a "self-administered overdose"-that is, until a sudden rekindling of faith in God hits. The epiphany, coming after the repetitious middle section, is a relief-but the restoration of working-class stability via faith is not as convincing, or nearly as beautiful, as the earlier nostalgic recreation of a lost world. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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