River Town Girl: A Memoir

Published Date: June 12, 2020

Description

River Town Girl: A Memoir is about growing up in a small, working-class town on the Hudson River in the 1950s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s. One mile away across the river is New York City, but it might just as well be a thousand miles away. The town, Edgewater, has 4,000 people. Cut off by the river, which runs along it on the east, and the Palisades cliffs, which run along it on the west, it is rich in eccentric characters, and its life is shaped by the rhythms of the Hudson. The town is fertile ground for the delights and the powers of story telling. Today that version of the town is gone, buried under New Jersey’s high-rise Gold Coast.

This story is about how a child of the 1950s becomes an adolescent of the 1960s and gradually but finally finds the strength to finish growing up.

A bookish only child, the power of words to make sense of the world is life saving for her. In her books as a child and in her mother’s stories and her father’s journals, she comes to know a self both damaged and resilient. Later stories told in psychotherapy make sense of the overwhelming anxiety that threatens her. Then the stories she writes as a newspaper reporter lead her into city rooms that become her second home and into assignments that usher her into a larger world.

The author treats memory as more episodic and fluctuating than traditional narratives do. Written in prose, poetry, lists, fragments, and dialogue and in both facts and imaginings, this patchwork creates a complex, coming-of-age story about a girl, a family, a town, a river, and a time now gone. It does so in carefully crafted language that seeks to delight readers. What many people know about the lower Hudson Valley may begin and end with the Clearwater sloop, but the full breadth of these lives lived along the river goes well beyond.

About the Author

Lynn Litterine has been a journalist and a writing teacher.

Praise

Litterine recalls growing up in a small town across the Hudson River from New York City in this original, poetic debut memoir.

The author’s first memory of Edgewater, New Jersey, was standing on a stool at 3 years old looking over the town to the Hudson River beyond. Her memoir ably captures growing up in a working-class town in the 1950s,’60s, and early ’70s by weaving together memories, journal entries, poetry, dreams, and historical detail. Litterine escorts readers through the streets of her hometown, giving them a full sensory experience, from sights (“sun sequins sparkling on river water”) to smells (“shad smoke on the early spring air”). She candidly discusses key life events, like reaching puberty and kissing: “Sometimes when we French kiss, his spit gets in my mouth, and I’m shocked to find it tastes good.” Other recorded life events include visiting a psychiatrist to address her anxiety, her first major job at a newspaper, and a trip to Europe. At the opening of the memoir, Litterine ponders her metaphysical connection to Edgewater, a connection she envisions stretched across time to the first settlers: “I can envelop myself in the deep silence that surrounded the Lenni Lenape….Or I can sink back with a sigh into the soft leather seats of the town’s first car.” A Whitmanesque ability to “embroider the facts left behind and enter other lives” transforms the work into a voyage of discovery in which Litterine imagines being part of the territory’s tribal past, “moving through the summer forest I shape the wind that blows around me.” When telling her own personal story, she exhibits an extraordinary analytical tenderness: “My father was deeply loving and deeply wounded. Love made him vulnerable and wounds made him self-protective.” Those keen on a more conventional approach to memoir may mistake this as a hodgepodge of ideas. What Litterine, in fact, creates is a brightly detailed patchwork of memories that is a vibrant celebration of her hometown across the ages. Includes the author’s photographs alongside other relevant artwork.
Both dazzlingly imaginative and comfortingly nostalgic.

Kirkus Reviews

This is an exquisite book, an intelligent and thoughtful look into a woman’s life that will reward any reader, not just those close to the Hudson Valley. Litterine masterfully combines words and images to present a vision that begins with the history of the river town where she grew up then spirals inward. Playing with the collapse of time, we are gifted with a keen perspective that ranges from the historical to the geographic to the personal and communal.

Donna Baier Stein
Author, The Silver Baron’s Wife

This is a beautiful, moving, and sometimes heartbreaking account of what it was like to come of age in a working-class New Jersey town in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The writing is luminous and evocative, and the author’s eye for detail is remarkable. You’ll feel as if you’re transported back to another era, to a world filled with both pain and delight.

Constance Rosenblum
Author, Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope Along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx

Beautifully illustrated, it’s a seamless mix of town and family history, vivid characters with their own points of view, and surprising revelations. With the river as the memoir’s organizing principle, the reader floats through Litterine’s life from girlhood to womanhood in a working-class town across from Manhattan, a town which changes so completely, it’s now called the Gold Coast. No one has written about this place, this time, this way.

Judy Irving
Filmmaker, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Blending history, poetry, prose and photography, River Town Girl subverts and transcends, haunts and surprises.Part memoir, part ode, Litterine’s stunning love letter to Edgewater, New Jersey, defies convention.

Susan Coll
Author, The Stager

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