April 20, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

How I Came Into My Inheritance

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In Season
Dorothy Gallagher
We gave it an A-

Gallagher’s bracing memoir begins with the rackety end of her parents’ lives — with her stroke-blurred mother tumbling around the crumbling house her obstreperous father refuses to vacate. It’s an apt starting point for How I Came Into My Inheritance, because Gallagher’s life is spined by her intractable Ukrainian-born parents: Their deaths signal her growing need to make sense of her own story thus far. In crisp vignettes, Gallagher describes becoming ”an American girl” in the Big Apple to the disdain of her stridently Communist family, flailing at marriage, and molding her voice as a writer in the pulp shop that bred Mario Puzo and Stan Lee. Gallagher ladles such tales clearheadedly, and although smiles gained are mostly of the sad crooked sort, they’re a resonant inheritance for any reader.

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