Michael Patrick MacDonald’s second memoir, Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under, would be a difficult read if it weren’t so damn engaging. He paints a grim picture of growing up in the projects of South Boston, a tribal community that insulates itself from the class bias of the outside world, while suffering its own epidemic of racism. You feel for MacDonald’s younger self as he fights for survival in this world where his life expectancy is half what it should be all while searching for personal and cultural identity (and calling home every day to make sure no one else has died).
While trying to cope with the death of four siblings, MacDonald retreats into the punk rock movement, finding solace for a time, among the band of outsiders. As he matures, he battles anxiety and hypochondria, and eventually begins to travel to Europe in his overwhelming desire to escape his Southie past, and with some distance he is able to identify elements of his Old Colony past and Irish heritage that he can embrace.
MacDonald is masterful at fleshing out the portraits of the people from his past. From his mentally ill brother, Davey, who tragically leaps to his death from a Southie roof, to his accordion-playing, spike-heel-wearing mother Helen, whose strength and pride sustain her dwindling brood through the difficulties of growing up in Boston’s projects. The prose is spare, mirroring the surrounding landscape, and the settings are powerfully drawn. I found myself transported to another world, one I didn’t know existed not so far from my rural Vermont home.
I was particularly enthralled by this memoir as I was frequenting the punk clubs in New York at the same time, trying to figure out how I fit in as a Puerto Rican Swede with her feet in two different cultures. I found myself wondering if MacDonald and I were at CBGBs or Danceteria on the same night, watching the Stimulators or the Bad Brains. I strongly identified with MacDonald’s younger self and plan to work backwards in time, reading his first installment, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, next. I’m certain it will be just as powerful.