Picks and Pans Review: Now and Then: from Coney Island to Here

updated 03/02/1998 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/02/1998 01:00AM

by Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller had all the makings of what could have been a miserable childhood. His father died from a bleeding ulcer when the author was just 5, leaving Heller's seamstress mother to raise him and two much older stepsiblings (both products of the father's prior marriage) on her own in Brooklyn in the middle of the Depression. Yet there was one consolation for him: He grew up down the street from the world's most famous amusement park, a wonderland of thrill rides and carnival attractions that buoyed his spirits and inspired his youthful imagination. Fans of Heller's classic 1961 comic novel, Catch-22, might expect him to look back on his own life with acerbic wit and bitter irony. But this memoir—taking us from his youth through his earliest publishing triumphs—is thick with warmly recalled memories of innocent summer days of punchball and roller-coaster rides. It is a treat to read a literary memoir that dredges up not painful childhood traumas but rather a brand of youthful naïveté and pluck that undoubtedly helped Heller cope with what life threw his way. (Knopf, $24)

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