Think You Have It Bad? Worse Than Frank McCourt and His Family in the 1930s?

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The death of Frank McCourt has brought his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes back to the forefront. The book, about his too-poor-for-words childhood in New York and Ireland, his manic, alcoholic father, and his mother’s attempts to put food on the table while dealing with another baby (or another baby who died), is raw, hilarious, heartbreaking, brilliant. If you haven’t read it, do so now: Afterward, it’ll be difficult if not impossible to whine, complain, or feel sorry for yourself if you live today in the United States and your stomach is filled more or less on a regular basis.

A quote from McCourt’s famous intro:

It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.

And a tribute from humor writer Dave Barry, a friend of McCourt’s who has found it difficult to find any humor in the moment:

He’s gone. Hard to believe. He was a brilliant man — a wondrous combination of literary skill, honesty, humor and the occasional burst of pure heavenly bull—. In other words, an Irishman.

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