Author Laura Pedersen’s memoir about growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York through the 1970s is a fun walk down memory lane that will likely be familiar to many Gen-Xers, although she doesn’t consider herself one being born in 1965. It struck even closer to home for myself as someone who also grew up in the town of Amherst, although I left in April 1975 one month before my eighth birthday, but still returned for yearly visits through the remainder of my childhood. The similarities end there though, because her parents were Dutch and British and she was raised as a Unitarian Universalist, while I was raised Catholic in an Italian family.
Pedersen does a great job providing the history of Buffalo, a city of major importance at the turn of the twentieth century that fell on very hard times as industries slowly pulled out. She provides a depth to the Queen City that outsiders only know for its tasty chicken wings, the polluted Love Canal and its Super Bowl-losing football team.
Buffalo Gal is at it best when Pedersen describes things specific to her life. Her parents are intriguing characters that occasionally surprise with their actions, and, while slightly inattentive, they gave her a great deal of freedom to grow as a person and this resulted in a great deal of independence and self-reliance. Her use of language as a writer is very direct, engaging, and economical.
While I enjoyed the read, the book does have some minor flaws. At times, it gets too reminiscent of cable countdown shows as Pedersen offers lists of familiar things everyone grew up with at the time, whether its popular games of foods. She won’t let the reader forget that she’s not the prettiest or smartest girl by constantly reminding them. When boys were finally interested in her, she always took her girlfriends’ castoffs, and at about the age of three a doctor told her mother Laura was retarded.
The book also suffers from occasional clichés. Even if the boys in the neighborhood really were looking at native women in National Geographic, it’s a story told so often it should have been bypassed. The one good thing about Internet porn is that quaint story will fall out of the collective unconscious by another generation.
Also, the anecdotes are so smart, clever, and quirky that I began to wonder if they were all really true. She tells a story about her mother working at the unemployment office making ten dollars more than the unemployed “but they only had to come in one day a week instead of five,” which is a gag I have heard comedian Bob Newhart tell. There is also the time she thought she was being clever and wrote a dirty poem in her school anthology. She explains the first letter of every other word spelled out an expletive-filled phrase, but she was off one word.
Buffalo Gal is like a friend or family member reminiscing about the good times with not much in the way of strife or conflict even with her having to deal with her parents divorce. It’s a nice, pleasant, angst-free read.
An excerpt of the memoir about “God’s Frozen People” can be read at Pedersen’s website.