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All Souls Book Review

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All Souls: A Family Story From Southie

By Micheal Patrick MacDonald. (Ballentine Books under The Random House Publishing Corporation, 1999, 266pp. $14.00)

Michael Patrick MacDonald saw hatred animated on a Friday in the early days of October. Some people were reading the newspaper in brightly lit kitchens. Some children were coloring with brightly hued crayons. Some fathers were getting into cars in front of their beautiful homes. But there were no crayons, bright kitchens, or fathers in nice cars on Dorchester Street in Southie that day. Only the cruelest manifestation of blind hatred. Michael Patrick MacDonald was an innocent child when he stood only feet away from a black man who was having the life literally beaten from his body, one kick, one punch, one rock at a time.

"I remember the man's tears clearing paths in the blood on his face."

Michael Patrick MacDonald lived a frightening life. To turn the book over and read the back cover, one might picture a decidedly idyllic existence. At times frightening, at times splendid, but always full of love. But to open this book is to open the door to Southie's ugly truth, to MacDonald's ugly truth, to take it in for all it's worth, to draw our own conclusions. One boy's hell is another boy's playground. Ma MacDonald is a palm tree in a hurricane, bending and swaying in the violent winds of Southie's interior, even as things are flying at her head, she crouches down to protect her children, to keep them out of harms way. We grew up watching Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow and Peanuts. Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up watching violence, sadness and death.

MacDonald recalls Southie quite like an adult might describe his abusive father. He still holds Southie dear to his heart, still acknowledges its part in shaping him as a person, giving him life and shelter and an imagined protection. But he also reveals the pain that Southie inflicted upon him, upon every one of Old Colony's residents. He tells us the story as if he is trying to explain away, rationalize, justify a father who goes out drinking, then comes home and beats his wife and children. In a 'He was a good man underneath all of that rage' sort of fashion, he exposes Southie's grave and serious problems, all the while maintaining that it was "the best place in the whole world."

We tend to marginalize the poor, the destitute, the food stamp and welfare recipients among us. We like to pretend that they are not there, much like the residents of Southie liked to pretend that the violence and anger and tragedy in Southie weren't there. We like to try to compartmentalize this part of our own society, this very real set of people who still live in our towns. Who mourn their dead at our churches, who lower them into the ground in our cemeteries, who hand food stamps to the cashier at our grocery stores. We have all been guilty of it. How could we not be? How could we really grasp, realize, come to terms with, comprehend such an alien life? Michael Patrick MacDonald is our translator. He relays the past as Southie has written it on his heart. He hands it to us in a language we might better understand. MacDonald opens the door and



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