How I Came Into My Inheritance | Summer Reading | Indy Week

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How I Came Into My Inheritance

by Dorothy Gallagher, (Random House, 187 pp., $22.95)

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As an offering in the Genre of the Month--memoir--How I Came Into My Inheritance is a small treasure, but only if you're willing to read a story barely told. The book is slight, and Gallagher employs an aesthetic that is both legitimate and rarely seen: the glance, or the glancing blow. Told in essay form, the chapters aren't chronological or linked thematically (except by the metaphor of inheritance), and the two principals, Dorothy's parents Bella and Yitzak Rosen, are in their extreme dotage when the book begins. By Page 20, they're both dead, and are resurrected throughout the rest of the book. Characters come and go--aunts, cousins, friends from Bella and Yitzak's former life in the Ukraine--and most of them are so interesting, one wishes for a much longer book.

But Gallagher doesn't linger long on any face, and so the work as a whole becomes a surprisingly effective meditation on grief. Her parents, committed Communists, lived their entire lives in service to a lost cause, and Gallagher is able to draw a sweeping connection between the fallen Soviet Union, the broken family, and the beloved, individual mother suddenly gone. All that said, the book is consistently funny. Gallagher describes the Communist Children's Camp of her youth: "Our camp song was sung to the tune of 'Oh Moscow Mine,' and our project was to dig a new cesspool for the camp. (Talk about the theory of surplus value!)" Inheritance can be read in just a couple of hours--perfect for a beach excursion--but is lovely and memorable, and more than worth the time.

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