Vertigo: A Memoir

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Feminist Press at CUNY, 1996 - Biography & Autobiography - 263 pages
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Born to immigrant parents during World War II and coming of age during the 1950s, DeSalvo finds herself rebelling against a script written by parental and societal expectations. In her revealing family memoir, DeSalvo sifts through painful memories to give voice to all that remained unspoken and unresolved in her life: a mother's psychotic depression, a father's rage and violent rigidity, a sister's early depression and eventual suicide, and emerging memories of childhood incest. At times humorous and often brutally candid, DeSalvo also delves through the more recent conflicts posed by marriage, motherhood, and the crisis that started her on the path of her life's work: becoming a writer in order to excavate the meaning of her life and community.

In Vertigo, Louise DeSalvo paints a striking picture of the easy freedom of the husband and fatherless world of working-class Hoboken, New Jersey, the neighborhood of her early childhood, where mothers and children had an unaccustomed say in the running of their lives while men were off defending their country, but were jolted back into submission when World War II ended. Hoboken was not a place where girls were encouraged to develop their minds, or their independent spirits, yet it is that tenement-dotted city with its pulse and energy, wonderful Italian pastry, and sidewalk roller-skating contests, and not suburban Ridgefield, where the family moves when Louise is seven, that claims Louise’s heart.

Written with an honesty that is as rare as it is unsettling, Vertigo also speaks to broader truths about the impact of ethnicity, class, and gender in American life. Offering inspiration and a healthy dose of subversion, this personal story of a writer’s life is also a study of the alchemy between lived experience and creativity, and the life-transforming possibilities of this process.
 

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Vertigo: a memoir

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Growing up Italian American in the 1950s and observing the women around her, DeSalvo became keenly aware of the severely limited opportunities available to women generally. Determined not to live a ... Read full review

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Contents

Fixing Things
1
My Sisters Suicide
13
Combat Zones
38
Finding My Way
66
Safe Houses
87
Colored Paper
116
Spin the Bottle
130
Boy Crazy
145
Vertigo
161
The Still Center of the Turning Wheel
189
Anorexia
200
A Portrait of the Puttana as a Woman in Midlife
219
Personal Effects
242
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