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March 6, 2019

Not For Nothing: Glimpses into a Jersey Girlhood by Kathy Curto ~ a Review & Excerpts

by MK French

Kathy Curto grew up in a very Italian household in New Jersey during the 1970s and 1980s. This is a memoir comprised of many different vignettes, all full of sensory details and almost visceral memories. Some are happy ones, such as dancing around when she's four years old in her father's gas station, as well as upsetting ones, like her parents' fights that involve cursing and name calling.

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Not For Nothing
December 2018; Bordighera Press;  978-1599541297
print (184 pages); memoir
The language is conversational, as if you're talking to Kathy and she's telling you these stories of her childhood. I can almost hear the run on sentences in the Jersey accent, and it sometimes gives me the feeling like I'm reading her diary. The snippets are laid out in chronological order but without emotional context from the present. You know what the younger version of Kathy was feeling, but not what the current version of Kathy thinks of these events. Still, there's a poignancy to the emotions she does feel as a child, with the feelings of connection and disconnect with each parent, and the need to push down emotions when theirs are flying too thick and loud all around her. This is especially the case as the reader picks up on things that a younger Kathy didn't. We know that all of this happened in the past and can't be changed, but there are times when I found myself wondering what I could have said or done to help them through their troubles.

The vignettes vary in length but are generally all short and easy to digest. They're little snippets of memory, and I really do feel the essence of them even though they're so short. While I didn't have the same experiences growing up, the way Kathy writes them makes them feel familiar, as if I'm part of her family, too.

Buy Not For Nothing: Glimpses into a Jersey Girlhood at Amazon

Read Excerpts

BLACK ROAD MOVING 
Here’s what happened tonight. My mother was making what she sometimes calls a very sharp left but most of the time calls a bitch of a left out of the Suds N Duds parking lot and onto Hooper and I fell out of the car. I saw the black road moving. My side scraped the street and my undershirt ripped a little. I think I saw a Tastykake wrapper on the road but I’m not sure because the second after it happened my mother put the car in park, yanked me back inside and then leaned all the way over me and slammed the door shut. I said “Sorry.” because how many times does she have to tell me not to lean on the door like that, for Chrissakes?

Then she put the car back in drive, handed me her handkerchief and took me to Mel’s Jewelry Shop to get my ears pierced.

RECESS 
It’s recess. I’m in the woods behind Cedar Grove Elementary School. Derek Brightman, bad boy of the sixth grade, sits next to a big oak tree and holds a black transistor radio in one hand and a crumpled picture from Playboy in another. I glance down at both but instantly shift my eyes up and away toward the tops of the trees. Some leaves are falling and some are not.

And then time stops for maybe a minute or two.

Before I run back to the tetherball game that I started playing earlier with George and Penny and Roger three things happen: First, I see Nancy Spelling and Johnny Fox in the distance, behind a honeysuckle bush, even farther back in the woods, kissing; Second, I hear “I want you to want me/ I need you to need me” blaring from Derek’s radio; And third, something busts open inside of me and all of a sudden, I feel hungry.

But not for my lunch.

PRESSING PLAY 
I’m in Deer Hollow Park, the playground where little kids don’t play anymore and, according to my mother, troublemakers go. “When Doves Cry” is on my new Walkman and I’m spooked because I’ve already played it seven times over and over and am now pressing Play for the eighth time which makes me think that I might be going crazy.

I’m sitting on a black rubber swing, swaying. It’s just before dark. No one else is here in the park and I pray to the Gods of the Confused Hungry Teenage Souls that someone is watching me.

How is it that I want to be all alone, but, at the same time looked at, glanced over and watched? I don’t know how that happens, but I know I want both.

Prince’s smooth voice moves through me. Then up, in, out and around.

I regret sharpening, burning and applying the brown eyeliner to both the inside and outside of my eyelids this morning when I put on my makeup. I should’ve used black.

There’s a huge difference between the brown and black and even though I wasn’t ready for the black this morning, I’m ready now.

Excerpted from NOT FOR NOTHING: Glimpses Into a Jersey Girlhood ©2018 by Kathy Curto Published by Bordighera Press

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever. 

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