I wrote this article for Reader’s Digest in August 2006. Here it is in PDF format:
Archives for January 2015
The Globe and Mail, April 4, 2006
Reprinted with permission
It was May in 1981. I had just given birth to the largest identical twins ever born at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital the previous month.
I already had a two-year-old at home. Well, home was a stretch. We lived above a store three doors south of Honest Ed’s on Bathurst Street. My husband and I were students at the time. In order to pay the rent, he had gone to Inuvik to earn isolation pay.
The twins cried all night every night for the first month of their life and my two-year-old son was unhappy with the new additions to the family. Finally one night, no longer able to take the crying any more, I put the two babies in a carriage and balanced the third on the handle, (this was obviously before safety had been invented) and headed to the park at 5:30 in the morning.
When I arrived, no one was there except for one woman reading a book. She was in her 50s or 60s. The babies were screaming, both wanting to be fed, but I could feed only one at a time. The lady didn’t say anything — she never asked if I needed help. She could probably tell I was the type who would have said no. She just took one of the babies and walked around with him until he stopped crying. This gave me the chance to feed the other in the first experience of peace I’d had in days. I remember the velvet sound of that silence.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing New York Times best-selling author, Catherine Gildiner, regarding her book, After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties. To know Gildiner is to love her…rather – to read Gildiner is to be an instant fan and addict.
I read her first tome, Too Close to the Falls, a memoir of her childhood in Lewiston, New York, and simply could not put it down. I will never look at a holy water font or a compass quite the same way again. I fell in love with the little girl – her spunk, her wit, her courage, her intelligence and precocity.
After the Falls is the story of her life ages 13-21 with no less wit, humor, or fun. Things are just a bit more serious, but no less amusing. (I dare you to find a white lawn jockey – I did!)
Join us as we talk with author Catherine Gildiner who at age 12 moved with her family from her Niagara Falls home to a Buffalo suburb, leaving behind a family business, small town contentment, and the rebellious childhood chronicled in her first memoir, Too Close to the Falls. While her uprooted parents struggle to adjust, Gildiner stumbles in making new friends and edging into puberty. Her restlessness and a fundamentally outspoken and argumentative nature regularly catapult her further than simple teenage trouble, and she frequently fails at the standard American girlhood, often with comic results. The conflicts between the narrator’s individuality and conformity propel her into her first relationship at the same time that the seismic shifts in American society, culture, and politics hit home with ever-increasing force. Tune in as she talks with us about her life and the experience of living in the sixties.
The author of the much-loved and bestselling memoir, Too Close to the Falls, now brings us a novel of international intrigue, centred on the Freud Archives, in which two ex-cons are hand-picked to investigate an upstart archivist with plans to upset the entire psychoanalytic applecart.
Kate Fitzgerald has served nearly a decade of a life sentence for murdering her husband. While incarcerated she has put her restless brain to use by reading all of Freud’s works and has become known in academic circles as an expert. Her prison psychiatrist offers her parole if she agrees to find out what archivist and womanizer Anders Konzak plans to reveal in the forthcoming, unexpurgated Freud-Fliess correspondence. Kate’s partner in the investigation is to be Jackie Lawton, a violent bank robber who has been in jail most of his life, but who now works as a private detective, having finally shed his criminal past – at least that’s his story. Jackie and Kate are charged with discovering what Konzak has found that will, as he boasts, “make psychoanalysis obsolete.” He has already publicly impugned Freud’s famous seduction theory; what could be next?
The novel takes us from Toronto to Vienna, London, the Isle of Wight, small-town New York and back again to Toronto. Along the way we meet an assortment of characters, from misfits to the demure but resolute Anna Freud, still living in the London house where she brought her ailing father for the last year of his life, and where she actively guards his legacy.
Told with wit and erudition, this accessible and thrilling page-turner is an intellectual delight and a detective story of outstanding ingenuity.
PORT COLBORNE – Catherine Gildiner is pretty much an adopted local.
The Toronto-based author was born in Lewiston, N.Y., in 1948, raised in Niagara Falls, N.Y., then spent her teen years and early 20s in Amherst, just outside of Buffalo.
During all that time, she spent 13 summers at Wainfleet’s Long Beach.
On Thursday, Gildiner was the fourth author to grace the Roselawn Centre stage during this season’s Canadian Authors’ Series. It was her third time here during the past seven years. This time she was reading from her latest autobiographical novel, After The Falls.
The book is a sequel to her first novel, Too Close To The Falls, which chronicled her life from the ages of four to her early teens and which was the focus of Gildiner’s first visit to Roselawn. She has also been in town to read from her novel, Seduction, which looked at Charles Darwin’s influence on Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis.
Inspiration comes from many places, but perhaps the greatest source is the daily knowledge and happenings we observe around us as we journey through life.
Renowned author, Catherine Gildiner, imparted some of her insights to an enthralled audience at the Millpond Centre in Alliston Friday during a fund-raising event in support of the Friends of the New Tecumseth Public Library.
The non-profit organization has a mission to enhance and support library services and enrich the literary experience.
By profession, Gildiner is a psychologist, who spent 25 years delving into the secrets of the human mind. She now practises just one day a week. The rest of her time is devoted to her talent as an author. Born in Lewiston, New York, Gildiner crossed the border to complete her graduate studies at the University of Toronto in the city she now calls home.
By Catherine Gildiner
The Toronto Star, January 16, 2005
Reprinted with permission
Photo credit: Toronto Star
The writer’s solitary existence conspires against meeting the people who read what they’ve produced. The joy of the book tour, says Catherine Gildiner, is in bonding with complete strangers.
When I wrote Too Close to the Falls, a childhood memoir about my life from 4 to 14, I was thrilled that it made it to the best seller’s list. One of the best parts of the experience was the book tour itself.
Writing is a solitary activity. I was hunkered down on my third floor month after month pressing little keys and then one day I pressed print. Suddenly I was sent around the world to actually see the effect of my words. It is a magical moment to see a group of people you have never met respond to your writing with laughter or tears. It is a moment of shared intimacy like no other.
On a more practical level it serves as a mini market research group. You see what works and what falls flat. Audiences are not like friends. They don’t spare your feelings. You want the truth? Read aloud to strangers. On my first tour through the States I was given a ‘greeter,’ usually a cheerful middle aged woman who drives you to book stores and introduces you to people that she doesn’t know either. You not only have to talk all day to the people that are buying your books – fair enough, they’re forking over money – but the greeter is usually more demanding and she is getting paid.
Often they get lost in their own cities – having never been downtown. They say, “Uh oh. I’ve never been to this part of Chicago. Lock your door and read me the map.”
You stay in luxury accommodation, the kind that leaves chocolate on your pillow and then knocks on your door, terrifying you that they may be a rapist and saying they want to turn down your covers. Sometimes they call to see if you are happy and ask what they can do to assure that you are not disturbed. Then when you think you should go to more than five cities across the U.S. especially since the book is about small town life, the publisher says, “Sorry Cathy, we already spent our budget.”
Yeah – on a greeter and hotels.
The first question Catherine Gildiner is asked by those who confuse books with reality is, “Did you murder your husband?”
When, tongue-in-cheek, I ask her the same question, she laughs and hastens to assure me that no, despite the character in her new novel Seduction, who has killed her husband, she has no such act in her closet.
On the other hand, based on her long experience as a therapist, Gildiner found that she always liked the murderers best. When I ask her why, she tells me it is because “murderers usually make a mistake at only one moment in time,” while people who commit and repeat other offences are less trustworthy, recidivist and thus more determined law-breakers. I am, of course, fascinated. We are all fascinated by crime, and readers of Seduction (Knopf Canada, 486 pages, $34.95), will be compelled and intrigued by the mystery that she frames and then unravels in the novel.
“Although Catherine Gildiner didn’t grow up dirt-poor in Ireland, or communing with gophers on the Depression-era Prairie, her tale of life as an eccentric, middle-class Catholic school girl in 1950s Lewiston, N.Y., is no less memorably and skillfully told than [Angela’s Ashes and Who Has Seen the Wind?].… a revealing and vivid portrait of small-town America around the 1950s.… Anyone who ever was, or has, a child considered different in some way will enjoy this book. The author is among those who has survived the funny, sad, hard knocks of butting childhood ideals up against the real world, of painfully seeing through, and losing faith in, the rote pieties of religious indoctrination, and the hypocrisies of small-town respectability, 1950s-style. The author’s maturity, her ability to forgive rather than blame, informs this book and is the ultimate gift to the reader.”
— Moira Farr, The Globe and Mail
A “lively and immensely engaging memoir.”
— Philip Marchand, The Toronto Star
“Richly detailed and absorbing, Too Close to the Falls has only one real fault. It ends too soon.”
— R. M. Vaughan, Toronto Life
“Told with humour from an unsentimental child’s-eye view, Gildiner’s memoir captures the era (advertising jingles, 45 rpm records, Elvis Presley’s above-the-hips appearance on the Ed Sullivan show) and her unusual childhood as the only daughter born late in life to the town druggist and his eccentric wife.”
— Laurie, Parry Sound Books
“Gildiner writes these stories in the clear and matter-of-fact voice of a child, which induces a tone of hilarity throughout the novel. The whole book is a joy to read—page after page rolls out the eccentricities of Cathy’s life in complete contrast to the staid views of the people of Lewiston.”
— Anjali Kapoor, Lifewise Book Club
“Anyone who appreciates a good story, well told, will find it in Too Close to the Falls.”
— St. Louis Post Dispatch
“Toronto psychologist Catherine Gildiner’s Too Close to the Falls is both funny and true, a sometimes bizarre but completely believable story. In its particulars, it depicts the formative years of an extraordinary child, but it also captures the essence of childhood itself. The combination is altogether compelling; I cannot recommend this book enough.… A fascinating childhood is no guarantee of a fascinating memoir. It still takes a gifted writer to translate the past into a work of art, and Gildiner is a gifted writer. Her prose is intensely colorful, like a concentrate, but never overwhelming or labourious in its details. Against a vivid backdrop, she brings into focus those moments when the child’s world and the adult world intersect, when illusions are shattered and understanding begins.”
— Jamie Zeppa, The Toronto Star
“This is a life so full it’s bursting. Gildiner beautifully portrays her outrageous youth through the innocent, yet sometimes frighteningly worldly, eyes of a child. Her writing is sparse and clean, often laugh-out-loud hilarious. There are notypical memoirish moments of spitefulness. Each experience is a lesson. Too Close to the Falls is a clear picture of a young life worth writing about.”
— Michelle Berry, Quill & Quire
“Far from being ordinary, her childhood reads more like fiction than a memoir.… In Too Close to the Falls, Gildiner manages to convey a tone of childlike wonder with just a twist of adult irony, which emphasizes its fictional feel. The stories of her adventures are told in an absolutely reasonable voice, as if every kid went to work at age four or ate out at restaurants for nearly every meal because their mothers refused to cook.”
— The Halifax Daily News
“… [a]nd it’s here that the book is best — when it feels wryly understated and authentic. Authenticity isn’t the same as truth; it’s also about trust…. In memoirs, trust is terribly important making a particular story universally enjoyable.”
— Jeanie MacFarlane, The Hamilton Spectator
“Catherine Gildiner’s Too Close to the Falls supplies no end of mischief and delight. This memoir, about a bossy, precocious, Catholic girl growing up in Lewiston, New York, next to Niagara Falls, made me laugh long and loudly.… Too Close to the Falls shimmies and shakes with Gildiner’s hilarious antics as an inquisitive, competitive school girl.… What makes this memoir startlingly witty and vivid in every detail is Gildiner’s sense of invulnerability. She seems unaware of danger of the possibility of failure. She never indulges in self-pity or sentimentality. Like a good comedian, Gildiner has a split-second sense of timing. Her writing sparkles on the page and the episodes she recounts have the clarity of ice after a winter storm in Lewiston. This is a memoir that makes the world seem fresh again, and worthwhile.”
— Literary Review of Canada
“In Too Close to the Falls, Gildiner manages to convey a tone of childlike wonder at the world with just a twist of adult irony, which emphasizes the fictional feel of the narrative.”
— Kim Covert, The Canadian Press