My Mother’s Son is a moving coming-of-age story spiced with dark family secrets, historical references, dirty politics, and poignant immigrants’ tales that beautifully evoke life in 1950s Boston.
Now a successful radio raconteur, Joel reminisces about his childhood and the years beyond. “When you’re a kid,” he laments, “they don’t always tell you the truth.” This is the account of how the thoughtful, clever, and open narrator finds and unfolds the truths that were woven into the lies, exaggerations, and family lore he’s been told.
Joel and his brother Steven grow up in a time of close-knit extended families, playing baseball, rabidly rooting for hometown teams, discovering girls, collecting stamps and an appreciation for history, and watching TV pioneers emerge. It’s also a time during which the Korean War raged and neighbors went to fight and die, the polio epidemic was a constant threat, and Holocaust survivors didn’t share their experiences — and yet the quirks and differences among relatives, neighbors, and friends were kindly accepted and readily acknowledged.
Joel’s family saga emanates from his beloved grandfather. Papa succeeds in his new America by using his wits and resourcefulness to carve out a niche for his family. He becomes involved in Boston politics at a time when Jewish and Italian immigrants worked within the pecking order of the Irish city bosses. Joel and Steven are entrusted with the weekly delivering and receiving of “envelopes” as they bicycle all over town. They’re exposed to political intrigue, a baseball scandal, and a colorful group of men of all ethnicities.
The deeply human relationships of the characters are explored in many flashbacks and reveal unexpected, humorous, and touching plot twists. Kristallnacht, the Kennedy machine, kidnappings, depression, and murders all add layers to the narrative.
This well-crafted, compassionate, and witty debut novel is an emotional and entertaining read. David Hirshberg artfully constructs Joel’s life and drops hints and clues as the story sweeps along. The complicated back stories of betrayals, loyalty, and love are engrossingly intertwined with the present.
My Mother’s Son explores today’s values along with the past as Joel’s struggles lead him to realize life is never simple. The many half-truths and clouded secrets he’s dealt with over the years finally become clear as Joel realizes he truly is his mother’s son. This journey from innocence to acceptance is satisfying, rich, and reflective.