I’ve been taking Garageband lessons from the folks at Apple so I can bring Coming Ashore to you live from my writing studio. I’ve recorded the podcasts in segments, so you can listen to me read my escapades aloud, one chapter at a time. You can listen here.
“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
– Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Review by Bob Douglas, Critics At Large.ca
This apt epigraph opens Catherine Gildiner’s first volume, Too Close to the Falls (ECW Press, 1999), of a memoirs’ trilogy that was followed by After The Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2009) and Coming Ashore (ECW 2014). Anecdotally, some readers have indicated that they prefer the first volume and I think I understand why. It has laugh-out-loud humour and describes, in the style befitting a young precocious Cathy McClure (her maiden name), life during the conservative 1950s in small-town Lewistown, New York, and a childhood that, though chock-a-block with incredible escapades, was a happy, secure one, albeit in some ways unconventional. (Cathy, for example, has no memory of ever having eaten a dinner at home since her mother did not want to cook.) Perhaps most importantly, each of the thirteen chapters recounts a pivotal event or relationship that reverberates in the subsequent volumes, a pattern I noticed because I read the third volume first and read backward to the first. Arguably, After the Falls has a less sassy, more sombre tone than Too Close as she describes her activism in the civil rights movement after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and explores more fully her relationship with her parents. Nonetheless, that and the concluding volume, that narrates her time in Oxford, Cleveland and Toronto from 1968 until 1974, acquire greater depth and continue to demonstrate her strengths. She is a gifted story-teller who vividly evokes the cultural texture of the eras of her memoirs. She also reveals her humour, her vulnerabilities and above all her humanity, alongside a penchant for finding herself in bizarre and almost improbable circumstances.
Read the rest of the review here at CriticsAtLarge.ca
January 14, 2015 by Lynda Davis
Coming Ashore is the third book in Catherine Gildiner’s autobiographical trilogy.
Coming Ashore is the third installment in Catherine Gildiner’s autobiographical series and anyone who requires three volumes to cover her life up to age twenty-five has obviously lived a more interesting life than mine. Boomer Broads will love her books. I guarantee it. The first book, a best seller, Too Close to The Falls covers her life as a young girl growing up in the fifties in Lewiston, New York. As the precocious daughter and only child of a pharmacist father and a mother who never cooked a meal, Cathy McClure as she was known then, lived a rather unconventional lifestyle as a pint-sized drug dealer. Actually, she rode around in the delivery vehicle with her father’s illiterate driver acting as his reader and partner while they delivered prescriptions in the Lewiston and Buffalo area.
The second book, After The Falls which was also a best seller covers her teenage years marked by the beginning of her involvement in political activism. As a teenager she kept company with such interesting characters as members of the Black Panthers and her romantic relationship with a married man, whom she didn’t know at the time was married. We’ve all been there.
Special to The Globe and Mail, Published
Cathy McClure, Catherine Gildiner’s younger self and the heroine of her third and final memoir, Coming Ashore, is funny, energetic, incisive and courageous. She’s also, at times, a little bit lonely.
She wasn’t always that way, though. Gildiner’s first memoir, Too Close to the Falls (1999), documents Cathy’s “wonderful and secure” 1950s childhood in small-town New York. Gildiner’s second bestselling memoir, After the Falls (2009), deals with her traumatic coming-of-age in the tumultuous 1960s.
In Coming Ashore, we meet 20-year-old Cathy. It’s 1968. She’s landed a spot at Oxford “after ingesting [a] kick-ass army-green pellet of inspiration,” and writing “a lengthy poem that answered God in the same rhyme that Milton used in his twelve books of Paradise Lost.”
From here, Cathy charts a wild seven-year course to adulthood through England, Cleveland and Toronto. The ever-changing social climate of the late sixties and early seventies is her backdrop. Along the way, Cathy verbally duels her aristocratic English boyfriend’s judgmental mother, orchestrates a sexathon with Jimi Hendrix for a dying friend, wins over a class of inner-city high schoolers as a student teacher in Cleveland, and, as a University of Toronto graduate student, lives in Toronto’s infamous Rochdale residence, part “drug supermarket” and part “free college.”
Although she is friendly and open, Cathy is often at odds with her environment. She finds British society stuffy. She clashes with her right-wing colleagues in Cleveland. She feels humiliated when a professor advises her to become a “comedy writer” rather than an academic.
If you’re a subscriber to the Literary Review of Canada, you can read the rest of Grace Westcott’s review here:
The Waterloo Region Record, Nov. 2014
by Chuck Erion
(also published on Goodreads)
My relationship with Catherine Gildiner began in November, 1999. Her childhood memoir, “Too Close to the Falls,” had just arrived at our bookstore and I grabbed it for the long drive to my parents’ home in Sudbury. All I knew was that it took place on the American side of the Niagara River. My early years were spent on the Canadian side in Niagara Falls. The first chapters were too funny to keep to myself, so I read it aloud to my multi-generational family. It was a great connector for the weekend and was “LOL”, even “fall on the floor with tears of laughter”-funny. Catherine was a precocious only child who works from age eight delivering prescriptions for her pharmacist father and annoying her teachers, the nuns.
My wife told about that reading aloud when she introduced Catherine at a book reading for her sequel memoir “After the Falls” in the fall of 2009. Gildiner thanked her, saying it was the best introduction she’d had. “After the Falls” takes the author through her teens in a Buffalo suburb, to her involvement with the civil rights movement. Both books became bestsellers, meaning she needs little introduction for her just-released third memoir, Coming Ashore (ECW Press, 396 pages, $27.95). We againchortled as we also read it aloud.
This volume covers the years from age 21 to 25, from college in Ohio to a year at Oxford in the late 1960s, back to Ohio as a student teacher in a high school in a Cleveland suburb still burning from the race riots, and then to University of Toronto. There she’s arrested, to discover that her roommates were FLQ members. She moves to an apartment further up Huron St., which turns out to be Rochdale, the biggest drug haven in Canada. She switches from literature to psychology and moves in with a boy she meets at a campus film night. His Jewish identity doesn’t occur to her until she meets his parents, survivors of the expulsion of Jews from a Polish shtetl.
Gildiner describes herself, in a video interview on her website, as always a square peg in a round hole, the outsider, angry at those who don’t accept her. She only realized this when she reread “Coming Ashore”. Memoir writing for her is bildungsroman, a coming-of-age record about what she has learned at each stage of growing up. Despite a 25-year career as a therapist, the most important thing she’s learned is that she doesn’t have to be “normal” anymore, comparing herself negatively to what most people do. “Now I’m less argumentative, and have friends who accept me.”
Catherine in all three volumes loves to place herself at the often-witty centre of her stories. Her brush with fame in “Too Close to the Falls” was delivering pills to Marilyn Munroe. In “Coming Ashore”, she meets Jimi Hendrix in a London jazz club. When her Oxford friend gets cancer, they plot a way into his hotel room. Later, in a scene that could’ve been set in Downton Abbey, Catherine is taken to meet the parents of Clive, who has fallen in love with her. The Hunter-Parsons are upper-crust snobs, especially the mother, Wiggles. Catherine cannot resist skewering her.
“Now let me see. Your father was a pharmacist – a sort of tradesman?” [Wiggles asks]
“I like to say my father was a drug dealer.”
Gildiner grew up an only child among the Boomers in the 1950s through 70s. She has chronicled the turbulence of that era, now from American, British and Canadian perspectives. If she portrays herself as always the misfit, she nevertheless has earned thousands of loyal fans, including me. My only regret is that, in the preface, she declares this to be her final memoir, to protect “the feelings of those who travel with me.” I hope she will keep writing, even if publication must be posthumous.