To New Jersey With Love and Apologies
by Elayne Clift
OGN Publications (P.O.B. 299, Saxtons River, VT 05154), $14.95 paperback
Elayne Clift’s latest collection proves that we can go home again, at least in our own minds. A memoir comprising short vignettes and poems, To New Jersey … covers territory well-trod in Jewish women’s memoirs: living as a Jew in a goyish town; dealing with chronic mental illness; coming to terms with loss; choosing which traditionally female constraints to toss aside and which to keep; and understanding the class antagonisms, racism and sexual politics of the 1940s and 1950s.
Clift’s writing is often witty and humorous, capturing the nuances of small-town life. Episodes are vividly rendered: visiting her depressed mother in a chaotic psychiatric hospital; gaining a toehold on independence via babysitting; deciphering an ongoing battle between a “greenhorn” zayde and modern relatives; enduring the annual road trip to see family in Canada. While the anthology is rife with tragedy, Clift does not wallow in sadness; instead, she offers an even-handed and surprisingly affectionate look at a lonely, complicated coming-of-age. It deserves a central spot among the many feminist memoirs of the past few decades.
Eleanor Bader is a writer and teacher in Brooklyn, NY.