Picks and Pans Review: A Wider World

updated 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Kate Simon

A deeply moving autobiographical sequel to Bronx Primitive, this volume is subtitled "Portrait in an Adolescence." The earlier book was about Simon's childhood in a family of Jewish immigrants. This volume tells how, despite an ignorant father who wanted her to drop out and work, Simon finished high school and then went on to Hunter College. A job as a baby-sitter for a wealthy doctor's children showed her another life: fine books, paintings, artists. Simon spent summers with this family and was appreciated, even loved, in ways her own parents were incapable of. At 15, Simon fled home forever. Along with jobs taking care of an old lady and doing menial work, Simon also had adventures in Harlem, found a boyfriend, chose her own friends (some not too wisely) and thought a lot about sex. Erica Jong is the most celebrated woman writer to describe growing up Jewish in New York, although she called Fear of Flying fiction. Simon touches on many of the same themes, but instead of naive gusto, A Wider World is permeated by a sense of wonder that the tough, eccentric teenager she once was managed to survive at all. With her candor, Simon makes this much-written-about time and place seem fresh. As she becomes an adult, she faces her mother's decline: "I could only listen as she spoke about aging as an overlong good-bye, like guests who stood and talked at the door long after one was ready to close it." This thoughtful book conveys emotions that readers will remember as their own—even when their own growing up had nothing whatsoever in common with Kate Simon's. (Harper & Row, $14.95)

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