Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rolling Pennies in the Dark - MacKinnon

*This book was an advanced reading copy sent to me, free of charge, for my honest review and opinion.  All comments in this review are the honest opinion of the blogger.

According to his new memoir, Rolling Pennies in the Dark: A Memoir with a Message*, Douglas MacKinnon grew up in inner-city Boston, with stints in various Massachusetts suburbs and New Hampshire towns where rent was cheap. His mother, a nice girl from a dysfunctional family, and his father, a dirtbag from a healthy family, were alcoholics and neglectful parents. MacKinnon, his older brother, and younger sister were left to their own devices to care for themselves. They often went hungry and unclothed. Though they managed to get themselves to school regularly, they were unwashed and unkempt. The other kids were cruel and unforgiving, as often were the nuns and educators.

Despite all of that, MacKinnon manages to become an intelligent adult with a strong sense of survival, a keen sense of morals, and the street smarts of an alley cat.  Upon graduation from high school, and an apparently failed CIA interview, MacKinnon puts his skills towards writing and expressing his points of view (developed from many years with an extended family of political enthusiasts). Seemingly by a fluke (he barely skims this part of his life), he lands a very successful career writing for several presidents (Reagan, Bush Sr.), eventually serving as Director of Communications (press secretary) for Senator Bob Dole.

Douglas MacKinnon is a terrific writer. His experiences as a child are heartbreaking and horrific, though at times a bit unbelievable. A story of his mother shooting at he and his siblings, for example, is hard to fathom particularly because no one was hurt. I have learned however that those terrible occurrences are often the stories that are true.  They fall into the "too-horrible-to-be-made-up" variety.  Yet, MacKinnon offers the information in such a way that the reader not only feels bad, but strives to understand not just what occurred, but why. His work makes you truly think. 
The most unbelievable outcome of his childhood, in my opinion, is the fact that Douglas MacKinnon became a Republican.  Now, I have no interest in debating politics. When this ARC arrived, I was honestly worried I would be bored.  I feel this section was a drawback for the book. I realize that many will read the book especially for this section, but for someone who is either liberal or, perhaps, not at all interested in his political stance (or why Al Gore should have just rolled over and played dead, yes there is a whole chapter about why George Bush Jr. deserved his win) it was a bit unbearable. Thankfully, this section is relatively short. This made the political portion endurable.  

The final portion of the book is, literally, the "message" within the memoir. Again, this section is short, but it is also valuable reading. MacKinnon's points of view are very strongly expressed and, though mildly political (a couple anti-abortion rants, for example), very worth reading. Comments like work hard, don't wait for a handout from others, grow beyond your past and build your own future are well worth sharing. 
As I read the book, the thought that struck me was that this book might actually be great reading for high school and/or college level literature classes! Sadly, the strongly expressed politics might make it hard to see that happening.  Perhaps it is more suited for a civics class.  As a survival story, however, it is wonderful and valuable, a potential classic.

4/5- Great. Push it on your friends and family.