All Souls, by Michael Patrick MacDonald, caught my interest not because of the gangster story - in fact I typically have no interest in such a thing - but rather because of its draw as an Irish family story, from South Boston (close to where I lived at the time), and its 1970's/1980's time frame.
MacDonald and his many siblings were born and raised in the enclave of "Southie", the southern section of Boston. The Irish hub of Boston, Southie is known for its closeness, its Irish pride, its racism towards outsiders, and for its poverty.
With a mother who was known to wear miniskirts and play her accordion in local bars to supplement her public assistance funds, while searching for the next male companion to help support the family (which all too often brought additional children, but no additional income), the MacDonald household was not all that different than many in the Old Colony projects of South Boston. The MacDonald family, however, seems to have had more than their fair share of troubles. Mental illness, drug abuse, deaths, and an unending amount of heartbreak.
While this book is about this family and their trials, it is also about the South Boston neighborhood and its struggles. Sadly, with the rise of James "Whitey" Bulger and his gang of organized crime mobsters, this close knit community and the MacDonald family quickly became victims. A center for drug trafficking, murder and poverty, Southie and its inhabitants struggled with the ravages of the crack heyday of the 1980's and the crime associated with such a trade.
More than, perhaps, anything else though Southie struggled with the ridiculous denial that this organized crime existed. While family members got hooked on drugs and died, Southie inhabitants refused to admit, or even see, the horrible things happening in their own backyards - whether out of fear and denial or just hard headedness.. Many years of struggle have followed to clean up and strengthen the community, though it will never be what it once was. Whether that is good or bad, I will leave up to the reader.
MacDonald's account of his family and community's struggles through the 1970's and 1980's is heartbreaking, and yet reeks of tragic honesty and truth. This book is wonderfully written and well worth the read!
5/5- Excellent. Keep it, treasure it, reread it.