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Borrowed Finery: A Memoir (2005)

Borrowed Finery: A Memoir (2005)

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3.56 of 5 Votes: 4
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0312425198 (ISBN13: 9780312425197)

About book Borrowed Finery: A Memoir (2005)

What a life! I was enthralled, following the details of Fox’s life, as she was moved about from person to person, city to city, even living in Cuba for a year and a half. Fox is 91 years old, and the book takes place up to the point that she is 21 years old, except for a short section at the end, so the book is not an exhaustive autobiography–probably why it’s called a memoir. Nevertheless, it didn’t feel like a memoir. There wasn’t a strong MDQ driving the book. Occasionally, it is even anecdotal. That said, I was fascinated, both by the events and by her exquisite sentences.Her mother abandoned her at birth; she was a cruel woman who seemed to blame infant (and child) daughter for the loss of her “spring.” Her father and mother were married, and the father complied with the mother’s wishes. He also seemed to be quite cruel and a severe alcoholic, although as a child Fox was obsessed with him. One of the first times Fox was with her parents, they asked her to order from room service. When the meal came, she realized she had forgotten to order milk and mentioned it. Her father took the tray of food and threw it out the window.Many people are familiar with some basics of Fox’s life. For instance, when she was 21 she gave birth to a baby girl. Linda was the result of a one-night stand, although Fox had already been married to someone else. Fox despaired of being able to take care of her daughter and gave her up for adoption–only to almost immediately change her mind. She was told it was too late to change her mind (it wasn’t). Eventually, Fox was reunited with adult Linda and they have a good relationship. Linda is the mother of three daughters. Two of the granddaughters Fox has a great relationship with. The other granddaughter through Linda is Courtney Love, who Paula does not think is a good person. It does make me wonder if Love inherited a gene passed on to Linda from Fox from her own horrible mother.Although I know that an unknown writer can’t publish a memoir that relies on chronology and anecdote in the way that Fox’s can, I did learn many things from her book. Just soaking up her elegant phrasing makes me aspire to write better. Then I also saw that she easily moved forward in time when she wanted to “tie up” an anecdote. With her graceful style, I really had to pay attention to even notice such a move.

Wow, after reading my previous enthusiasm below, I feel rather bad for myself. Heh. This book was hard to read, which I don't necessarily mean as a bad thing. I remembeber enjoying of Fox's The Coldest Winter her wit and dry, raised eyebrow approach to, well, the absurdity of post-war Europe if not also life itself. But Borrowed Finery, while also told with a sort of detached bemusement, is truly painful. Fox does has any kind of pity for herself as a separate entity but as a reader I felt waves of true loss just washing over me and that's what made it hard to get through. And as a very minor aside, it's really hard to read her pleasure and warmth at her reunion with her given-up-for-adoption daughter after having read Linda Carroll's AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL memoir Her Mother's Daughter. UGH. I want to crawl into Borrowed Finery and keep Paula from ever meeting Linda. Bleccch. Earlier: I am a HUUUUUGE fan of Fox's The Coldest Winter so I am THRILLED I got this book to read as a Christmas present! I am a hug fan of Fox's writing in general so I plan to track down her (adult) novels as soon as I'm finished with this lovely, powerful book.

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It was fascinating, partly because she is Courtney Love's grandmother. She doesn't talk about that in the book but I was surprised. Before I read this book the only thing I knew about Paula Fox was that she was the author of One-Eyed Cat, a book I read last year.So she had quite the interesting childhood. As the back of the book says she was "born in the twenties to nomadic, Bohemian parents." Her mother doesn't want anything to do with her, tells her husband to take her to an orphanage. Her Cuban grandmother takes her out of there pretty quick but she has to get back to Cuba so leaves her with friends of one of her children. A minister visiting the family who has infant Paula takes an interest in her and takes her in. Dad shows up again when Paula is about six and Paula bounces around between her parents, her grandmother, the minister and various people she gets left with. It really is wild. What I find amazing is that no one seemed to mistreat her as a child, her mother was incapable of loving her, but no one beats her or molests her and she successfully makes friends and attends school wherever she finds herself. Obviously she made a success of herself as an adult as well. She writes beautifully, very detailed but never boring.

Paula Fox's parents are they type of people who should dominate a memoir. They should gnaw through the pages with merciless teeth and wild living. Their daughter should exist only as a pitied whisper behind the never-ending party to which she was never formally invited.This book is brilliant as it holds so much more than rejected intimacy and childhood lost. Fox brings us into the households of the people who love her,who are often very different than the people responsible for her. There are plentiful and breathtaking moments of kindness interspersed with casual and brutal cruelty. I look forward to reading more of Paula Fox.

Wow! Borrowed Finery has accompanied me on my commute for the last several weeks. In her brief spurts of memory, Paula Fox manages to describe a neglected childhood without self-pity and with dazzling imagery and observations that leave me breathless: Standing there on winter afternoons, gripping an iron rail with a mittened hand, I watched the last violet light of the setting sun, the streetlights came on all at once like a word spoken in unison, and I felt touched by an ecstatic stillness." "I didn't know where Cuba was, but I found it in a school atlas, a green lizard lying athwart a blue sea." I have only read one of her novels so far, but have two more on the shelf. I can't imagine being any more moved by them than I am by this memoir.

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