Albert Flynn DeSilver was not always a beamish boy. If this book were fiction rather than memoir, the opening chapter is enough to make you wonder if he’d live long enough to even flicker. After getting my attention, DeSilver deftly backtracked to describe his emotionally bleak childhood in the Bell Tower, an architecturally unique abode with an abundance of bats — in the belfry and elsewhere — under the wary eye of “Das Hell Frau,” otherwise known as Miss Hedy, the family’s German-Swiss governess from Zurich. Not surprisingly, DeSilver fell in early with friends who had easy access to alcohol, beginning his downward spiral. His slide into binge drinking/drugs/sex blurs into similar stories found in an abundance of recovery memoirs.
Although his decline and many predicaments are predictable, a quick look at the Table of Contents is enough to show that his adventures and perspective are not. Who else attended Camp Pummelton or East Jesus Junior High? He goes from a Rocky Mountain Low to a Balcony in Africa. When in Doubt, he Joined a Cult. Later he had A Date With the Dalai Lama in Central Park.
What sets this book apart, far more than the unique path DeSilver found for eventual redemption, are the subtly compassionate humor with which he softens the account of his own and his family’s fundamental dysfunction, his tenderly frank admissions of human longing and frailty, lyrical description, and most of all, his profound realization that “I am not my story.” That realization enabled him to gradually transcend his dark and sordid past to become that metaphorical beamish boy. This simple, unheralded wisdom will remain with me long after details of the story have faded.
(reviewed 12 days after purchase)