Ill Know It When I See It: A Daughters Search for Home in Ireland

ISBN 10: 060960984X / ISBN 13: 9780609609842
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Synopsis: As a young girl, Alice Carey realized that “home” can mean different things. The only child of poor Irish immigrants, her isolated childhood in a cold-water flat in Queens is transformed when her mother becomes the maid to legendary Broadway producer Jean Dalrymple. In Miss Dalrymple’s Upper East Side townhouse, young Alice absorbs with delight a sophisticated theatrical culture that includes encounters with such notables as Jed Harris and Marilyn Monroe. Then, a visit to Ireland with her mother thrusts the girl into another novel culture, one that simultaneously enchants and traumatizes her.

When Alice returns to Ireland as an adult, she and her husband serendipitously find and fall in love with a ruined Georgian farmhouse. As they begin to convert the stables into a livable cottage, Alice unearths buried memories of a childhood played out in wildly divergent homes. I’ll Know It When I See It is the witty and rueful examination of her struggles to make sense of—and peace with—her recollections of a bittersweet past. It is a book certain to appeal to anyone who’s ever loved, lost, and reclaimed a home of their own.

Review: Although the author opens with a visit to her mother's native Ireland at 12 and ends with lighting candles in her new home in County Cork four decades later, this is no nostalgic memoir about getting back to your roots. Alice Carey has crafted a tough-minded examination of her complicated relationship with her heritage, a warm tribute to the theatrical free spirits who helped liberate her from an unhappy childhood. She grew up in Queens; her father often hit her and flew into a rage when his wife dared to augment the family's meager finances by working as a maid for Broadway producer Jed Harris. Helping Mammie in the afternoons, Alice glimpsed a glamorous, sophisticated world beyond the constraints of Catholic school and Celtic fatalism. She moved to Greenwich Village in her teens and made her life as a Manhattanite with a weekend home in Fire Island. When AIDS decimated that community in the 1990s, she and her husband moved to Ireland. Making an 18th-century farmhouse habitable is a black comedy Carey describes with a sardonic wit that echoes her Irish forebears and gay friends but is uniquely her own (she names "the Seven Dwarves of Restoration: Happy, Reluctant, Fearful, Suspicious, Wary, Hopeful, and Doubtful"). Her journey towards a new identity as "a real New Yorker living in Ireland" is all the more moving because it is chronicled with sharp perceptiveness and without sentimentality. --Wendy Smith

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Title: Ill Know It When I See It: A Daughters ...
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Carey, Alice
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