Book Review: ‘The Clancys of Queens, A Memoir’ by Tara Clancy

The Clancys of Queens
Photo: Crown/Mihai Andritoiu/123rf

Looking for a fun, “novel” holiday gift? Look no further. Tara Clancy’s debut has it all—humor, fascinating characters, glimpses into radically different lifestyles, intergenerational strife and celebration, insightful Hamptons references—and hope, lotsa hope.

The Clancys of Queens, A Memoir (Crown, 2016), recalls the author’s earliest years in Queens and Brooklyn and her childhood weekends in Bridgehampton in intimate and startling detail. Who else could remember so much about the interior of a limo that drove them from Queens to Bridgehampton when they were five years old? Only this Irish-Italian American, Catholic only child.

As a youngster, Clancy is clearly very bright. But her social set doesn’t necessarily reward kids who listen to Tom Waits or read King Lear with approval or encouragement. She is considered really weird. She credits her every success in life to her experiences of having far-flung philosophical discussions, “the moon and the stars talks,” with a kindly self-made millionaire (referred to only as “Mark”) on his Bridgehampton estate.

Colin Powell was a Bridgehampton neighbor to her mother’s rich boyfriend Mark. But the young Clancy wasn’t interested in bold face names. Bridgehampton’s Caldor (now K-Mart) held all the treasures she could desire, like a plastic kiddie pool; and the East End countryside offered extreme adventure like “stealing” potatoes from Grace Talmadge’s field.

Clancy is proud of her New York accent and her culture. She often points out in interviews that the last popular book written by a working class New York woman was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, 73 years ago. So she “gave it a whirl.”

Clancy’s Italian grandfather reminds readers that “all work is honorable,” even clipping your grandmother’s toenails. And this book teaches. It contains many colorful answers to questions. In fact, the press material sent out with review copies includes a Q & A with Clancy that features this exchange:

“Q. How did leading a dual lifestyle, shuttling between blue-collar Queens and the excessive wealth of the Hamptons, influence your personality and your values?

  1. Short (maybe a bit sappy) answer: At a young age I learned that a Queens basement party is as much fun as a poolside Hamptons mansion party, as long as you’re with the right people. And I haven’t ever lost that lesson—I care about who I’m partying with, not where.”

(Q. Who knew that the wealth of the Hamptons is “excessive?”)

A bartender well known to fans of The Moth Radio Hour, both as a featured storyteller and a host, Clancy includes some of that material in this book. Many listeners will recognize the tale of her accidentally being left behind the counter of an S&M shop at 14 and her coming out to her father at a faux alpine village in Georgia at 19.

Escaping the many threats and pitfalls of poverty, which include teenage pregnancy, alcohol and hip-hop fashion, our heroine, now in her late 30s, enjoys a settled family life in New York. She says that her next book is to be titled The Clancys of Manhattan, a memoir about her married life with two sons. She’s come a long way from the little girl who slept on a shared pullout couch in an old boat shed in Broad Channel. She is no longer just one of “the girls who blew up the lab” in Catholic school. This rich memoir reminds the reader that we are all many people.

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