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Down City: A Daughter's Story of Love,…

Down City: A Daughter's Story of Love, Memory, and Murder

by Leah Carroll

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DOWN CITY is the sad memoir of a broken family. Both of Carroll’s parents met tragic and premature deaths. Her mother was murdered when Leah was just four. As an adult Carroll came to realize that her mother was “a woman who existed entirely outside of (her) existence.” This largely was a consequence of caring relatives shielding her from the harsh details of her mother’s life and brutal murder. Carroll’s relationship with her father was likewise incomplete because of his severe alcoholism and depression. He was eventually found dead in a seedy bar in downtown Providence when she was a teenager. On one level Carroll’s memoir is her effort to understand who her parents were and how they died. Yet it also is a meditation on how “not mattering limitlessly and inordinately” to ones parents can damage a child and lead to estrangement as an adult. Her motivation to understand her parents grows out of a familial code of silence regarding her mother’s drug addiction and murder. This served as an “invisible barrier, years of so much unsaid,” to her understanding of her family and herself.

Carroll’s parents were bright and charming Rhode Islanders. Both were photographers. While her mother (Joan) was a gifted amateur (the jacket image is of her mother in the process of taking a photo), her dad (Kevin) was a professional newspaper photographer for the Providence Journal. Both also were addicts. While her mother’s weakness was drugs, her father’s happened to be alcohol.

Leah’s mother was from a Jewish family living in one of the Providence suburbs. She was fun loving but also reckless. Carroll speculates that her mom was introduced to drugs through the “collection” her dad had to manage his depression. She was brutally strangled in 1984 by a couple of drug dealers with mob connections. They thought she was a police informant. Ironically, they received light sentences in exchange for information about the mob. Carroll was dismayed to learn that a trial for her mother’s murderers never happened. The connection of the murder to the mafia suggests that her death was an unfortunate consequence of organized crime in Rhode Island. Regrettably Carroll was forced to conclude that “almost everyone involved . . . saw her (mother) as a disposable person.”

Like so many others, her Irish-Catholic father returned damaged from the Vietnam War with substance abuse and psychological issues. As an autodidact, he instilled an intellectual curiosity in Leah, but notwithstanding their closeness, he was not a particularly good father. Following Joan’s murder, Kevin moved the family to the suburbs, but never really conquered his alcohol dependency or depression. Fourteen years following Joan’s murder, Kevin’s body was discovered on the floor of the Sportsman’s Inn in downtown Providence. Carroll notes that this is a place that illustrates Providence’s decay and more recent recovery. It began as a home for wayward sailors, morphed into a tavern (the Sportsman’s Inn), and later became the Dean Hotel.

In researching her parents’ lives and deaths, Carroll conducted a prodigious amount of research. Obviously this is a work of self-definition designed to tell stories that mattered to her. Her sources included her own and familial memories, newspaper accounts, police records, interviews and photos. Moreover she creates an accurate portrait of Providence at the time. Most of the industry was gone, the jobs that existed were largely blue-collar, the city’s core contained many rough taverns, the mafia was ascendant, and the local government was corrupt. The memoir’s title comes from a local term for downtown Providence. The ivy league Brown University is up on the hill and everything else is “down city.” ( )
  ozzer | Dec 5, 2017 |
Down City is a powerful, heart wrenching memoir of a daughter's telling of the murder of her mother and of her father's battle over depression and alcoholism.

While the memoir deals with disturbing subject matter, in the end, the love of the author toward her parents is uplifting and moving.

Leah Carroll's writing is warm and compelling. Her descriptions of her life and of her parents are honest and she does not appear to shy away from troubling aspects of their lives, nor cosmetically try to gloss over them, nor does she try to justify any of the lifestyle choices of those involved, or lay blame for the ways they lived.

The anger and disgust one feels toward people portrayed in this book is deservedly directed at those who's behavior allow them to treat some people as throwaways because of the life that is led.

Carroll in her writing makes it known that her parents are worth remembering and people should not be forgotten.

Highly recommended.

( )
  EricEllis | Sep 2, 2017 |
I received a free advance e-copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley and have chosen to write a review. This is a raw, dark, tragic but honest memoir. A daughter writes of her very dysfunctional childhood with very broken parents. She lets it all hang out giving details of Rhode Island law enforcement, the Mafia undercurrent in Rhode Island, her mother’s murder when she was 4 years old, her father’s problems with alcohol. We see the good and the bad. In spite of it all Leah is able to get a good education and become an amazing writer. She writes her memoir without blame or self pity but with a great deal of insight and empathy. Leah has beaten all odds and has grown into an amazing human being. This is a very well written memoir that is well worth the read. ( )
  iadam | Mar 22, 2017 |
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"Like James Ellroy's, My Dark Places, DOWN CITY is a gripping narrative built of memory and reportage, and Leah Carroll's portrait of Rhode Island is sure to take a place next Mary Karr's portrayal of her childhood in East Texas and David Simon's gritty Baltimore. Leah Carroll's mother, a gifted amateur photographer, was murdered by two drug dealers with Mafia connections when Leah was four years old. Her father, a charming alcoholic who hurtled between depression and mania, was dead by the time she was eighteen. Why did her mother have to die? Why did the man who killed her receive such a light sentence? What darkness did Leah inherit from her parents? Leah was left to put together her own future and, now in her memoir, she explores the mystery of her parents' lives, through interviews, photos, and police records. DOWN CITY is a raw, wrenching memoir of a broken family and an indelible portrait of Rhode Island- a tiny state where the ghosts of mafia kingpins live alongside the feisty, stubborn people working hard just to get by. Heartbreaking, and mesmerizing, it's the story of a resilient young woman's determination to discover the truth about a mother she never knew and the deeply troubled father who raised her-a man who was, Leah writes, "both my greatest champion and biggest obstacle.""--… (more)

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