Frank McCourt


I was sorry to learn of Frank McCourt’s death.   I had been a fan of his writing, particularly Angela’s Ashes.  He had a way of writing in that sweet spot where pain and humor kissed.  Some of the set pieces in his first book — first communion, Teresa Carmody, the knee-trembler — still stay with me, many years after my having read it.  Plus, it had the second best ending I’ve ever read.  (Love in the Time of Cholera has the best.)

At the height of his fame, he made an appearance in a fundraiser for the Irish Rep in New York.  He and his brother, Malachy (formerly the famous one, for his recurring role on One Life to Live), played in a revue they had written.  It was a godawful piece, shoddily put together but great fun nonetheless.  The moment I remember was Malachy saying, “He used to be my brother.”

Senator, I’m no Frank McCourt, but while I could never imitate his singular voice, I do try to hold to that place where pain and humor can co-exist.  Early in my family’s ongoing transition, I wrote the following few paragraphs, which I didn’t have the courage to publish at the time, and which since lost its bite, if not its relevance.  I like it though, and here’s my perfect chance to post it, even if it will make me look like an idiot next to the amazing Frank McCourt.

Two weeks ago we were, by any standard, rich.  Not filthy rich.  (Our shower bar is from Linens ‘N Things and falls down just like everyone else’s.)  I believe the term is hamburger rich.  We had become accustomed to a nice lifestyle — not an extravagant one, but we had everything we needed and then some.  We were able to focus our attentions and time on our two (thank G-d) healthy children, the younger of whom is still a nursling, and on community service and volunteering.  Maybe you could call us the well-intentioned rich.  We weren’t conspicuous consumption, but we could eat out when we wanted.  Neither my husband nor I went to a job on a regular basis.  We were able to support our family through the interest earned on some investments in the stock market.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

Yesterday we learned that one of the main stocks in our portfolio — the jewel in the crown of our small fortune — was crashing.  Last night, until late in the night, we were up brainstorming about what two people with very few credentials who have never been in the grown-up job market could do to stave off disaster.  Bill has two undergraduate degrees, in music composition and mathematics.  I have a liberal arts degree, and a master’s degree in music.

Would you like fries with that?

As of last night, we simply don’t know what we have.  We don’t know whether the stock will rebound or whether the company in question will fold.  We don’t even know if Merrill-Lynch, which holds our accounts, will remain viable.  Things are changing so fast in the current economy, and there don’t seem to be any elevators going up.

Maybe we lost everything, maybe it’s just a rough week.

It sounds like a Hollywood formula, like maybe Green Acres without the farming talent or the laugh track.  It sounds like there’s a wide target on our backs for Schadenfreude, and maybe there is.

So.  At this late date, we’re about to find out what we are capable of.  May it be only good.


2 thoughts on “Frank McCourt

  1. Heidi

    Thank you so much for this sentence:

    “He had a way of writing in that sweet spot where pain and humor kissed.”

    I’ve never been able to articulate the kind of writing I like best, and now I can. And I’ll sound smart doing it, thanks to you.

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