Finding Annie Farrell: A Family Memoir

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9780312301514: Finding Annie Farrell: A Family Memoir

Finding Annie Farrell is a stirring memoir of a daughter's search for her mother's secret history. This true story begins in the depths of the Great Depression, when a woman dies in childbirth in Mechanic Falls, Maine, leaving behind five daughters and a newborn son. Their father names the baby Franklin Delano Roosevelt Farrell, but the family's faith in a faraway president cannot protect them from poverty, fires and floods. They lose their home on the banks of the Little Androscoggin River; the children are sent to live with strangers, and their father goes to jail.

One girl, Annie Farrell, moves to New York with glamorous dreams of becoming a model. She marries a war hero who fought with the 101st Airborne in D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, and together they raise their own family.

But away from the evergreens and lakes of her native Maine, surrounded by the decay of Manhattan in the 1960s and '70s, Annie Farrell falls into a numbing depression. Trapped in a housewife's role, and haunted by her Dickensian childhood, she withdraws. Only when she travels to Maine each summer to vacation in a rustic cottage on a lake does she come alive again.

Twenty years after Annie Farrell's death, her daughter, Beth Harpaz, embarks on a journey to explain her mother's relentless sorrow and to understand why those summer sojourns in Maine were the magic cure for her ills. The author mines the memories of her four elderly aunts, discovering two hidden brothers and other family secrets along the way. And she undertakes a genealogical hunt that goes back 200 years, uncovering among her ancestors a mysterious Indian great-grandma, French Acadians, and Michael Farrell, an Irish immigrant from whom hundreds of North Americans are descended. Most importantly, she finds the keys to her mother's nightmares, and finally understands why Annie Farrell could never let go of the forest primeval.

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About the Author:

Beth Harpaz is an editor for The Associated Press and author of The Girls in the Van, a critically acclaimed account of Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. She lives in New York with her husband and two children, but she vacations in Hartland, Maine.

From Publishers Weekly:

Harpaz was 22 and her sister Nancy 34 when their mother, Anne Farrell, a manic-depressive alcoholic for decades, died of untreated metastatic breast cancer hours after leaving her filthy, roach-infested Manhattan apartment for the hospital. It would be 20 years (during which Harpaz became an AP reporter, married a criminal attorney and had two sons) before the author would delve into her mother's death, bipolarity and poverty-stricken childhood in rural Maine. The painful journey uncovered many family secrets: Anne's name had once been Lena; in addition to the five Farrell sisters were three brothers: one dead, one mentally challenged and institutionalized, and one still living near where Anne and her sisters had grown up; the Farrell children were fostered out when their alcoholic father neglected them and was sent to prison for failing to support them; their father may have tried to kill both his wife (who died in childbirth) and her son by her first marriage and may have met with foul play himself; Anne might have been sexually abused by her father; and Harpaz's father, a highly decorated WWII veteran, was a womanizer. Harpaz's intensive research, however, is never matched by her colloquial, unremarkable narrative, except in the poignant final chapter. Important details get lost while others are repeated tediously. Despite vivid depictions, culled through interviews and research, of Maine, Depression-era life and the worlds in which Farrell lived, Harpaz never comes alive in the narrative. Photos.
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