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After the Falls - Catherine Gildiner

After the Falls by Catherine Gildiner

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Coming of Age in the Sixties – and living to tell the tale

Two accomplished Canadian writers, Judy Fong Bates and Catherine Gildiner will read from their work on Wednesday 19 May at the Charles W. Stockey Centre, at 7:30pm.

Last week I wrote about The Year of Finding Memory by Judy Fong Bates, this week it is Catherine Gildiner and her most recent memoir After The Falls.

Catherine Gildiner came to the attention of readers in 1999 with the publication of her first book Too Close to the Falls. This memoir became an instant best seller and was read by book clubs across the country – most exclaiming “it can’t possibly be true but it is a great read”. True or not – we could call it “creative” non-fiction – it is a fascinating book of a girl growing up in Lewiston, New York in the mist of Niagara Falls. We follow Cathy McClure from her days working in her father’s pharmacy at the age of four, through Catholic girls school, to a move to Buffalo where it is thought there might be a more suitable academic environment for the precocious Cathy. The first time I read this book I saw humour in the outlandish tales of this girl’s life – this time I felt a sadness for this child and young girl who never quite fit in to the world in which she lived. As she says, in the 50’s she was called “energetic” and her parents were advised “to keep her busy”, today she’d be labeled hyperactive and medicated.

After waiting 10 years to find out what happened next … we have After the Falls, sub-titled Coming of Age in the Sixties. We now follow Cathy through her high school and university years. Years of turmoil for the coming of age of her generation – the 60’s – Civil Rights protests and the Vietnam War – the Kennedy assassination.

We see Cathy leaving home – a home eccentric in the extreme but sheltered at the same time. Cathy was a child who often behaved as an adult – but in many ways she was not as mature or sophisticated as other girls her age. Leaving home for university was an education not only in the academics, but in how to live in the world of “normal people”. The racism at Ohio University came as a shock and Cathy became very active in the Civil Rights movement. There is the experience of the first serious boyfriend and the choices that must be made about drinking, drugs and sex. There is the discovery of finding a comfortable place in the world.

We also read about the experience of being the only child of aging parents. Cathy had always been the member of the family most out in the world – her mother was as reclusive as was possible, leaving her daughter to make many decisions far exceeding what would be considered usual for her age.

We leave the family as Cathy’s father, after a long illness, dies – with Cathy being the person who was given the responsibility to advise the hospital to withdraw life support.

After the Falls is a fascinating glimpse into one young woman’s life, coming of age in the turbulent years of the 1960’s, written with candor and compassion.

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