Picks and Pans Review: Sleeping Arrangements

updated 01/08/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/08/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Laura Cunningham

When the author was 8, her mother, Rosie, died, leaving her an orphan. Her uncles, who called themselves the two O.B.s (Old Bachelors), moved in to care for her. They let her decorate their Bronx apartment too. "The result," she writes in this comic, touching memoir, "is interior decoration that looks exactly like what it is—an apartment designed by an 8-year-old." She picks an orange, pink and white color scheme and tells the house painters to brush on stripes, after her favorite icecream pop, the orange-vanilla Humorette. When the painters refuse, she finishes the job. "Very stylish," her uncles say.

This is the sort of book you buy multiple copies of to send to your mother and best friends.

Cunningham, now 42 and a New York-based novelist-playwright, has a delightful voice, gracefully mixing humor and sentiment. Writing of her grandmother Etka, who came to live with Laura and her uncles, she says, "She gives me my first paying job: I am the official editor of her memoirs.... The theme of Philosophy for Women, if it can be summed up, is that she was right not to do housework."

This story covers Cunningham's childhood (she was born illegitimate) through her eight years with her uncles. In her afterword she says, "Our home was formed in the aftermath of tragedy. We knew we would not live forever, and if that helped us savor every second, our memory of the past also tied us to it. We chose to live with a degree of pain, to preserve memory."

Today, Cunningham writes, one uncle is happily wed to a longtime sweetheart in Florida; the other O.B. uncle lives in Israel, where his wife is a caterer.

The book wilts when Cunningham hits adolescence—territory others have covered better. Otherwise, Cunningham's use of detail and language is such that a reader wants to quote Etka, who as her highest compliment used to say, "You know how to pick." (Knopf, $18.95)

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