Booklicious: Booklicious Reviews: Pitch Uncertain

August 25, 2011



“There was an unspoken lesson in that afternoon. My mother should have been angry but instead she held her tongue. Was it at that point that I learned to guard the peace, to mind my manners, to keep my mouth shut?”

Pitch Uncertain (TidePool Press) is a touching and thoughtful reflection on Maisie Kinnicut’s young life, on her days with a mother who seemed to have lost an understanding of who she was as she married and had three daughters, and a father who was negligent at worst and absent-minded at best. As Maisie tries to make sense of the world around her, she has to navigate a society that represses the female voice, disallows her to become who she really is, and find the strength to grow into the person she was made to become.

Maisie Houghton (née Kinnicut) is brutally honest, though not quite scathing, of the wealth, class, and status she attained through nothing but her birth. She has a keen ability to describe the individuals, whether they be her parents, grandparents, or friends of the family, with a pinpoint precision that leaves the reader not necessarily hating those individuals, but certainly aware of their flaws. Houghton recreates her childhood with amazing precision and includes photographs of the family throughout so that the reader can visually identify the person of whom she speaks. Her honest recreation is both poignant and beautiful, and recalls an era reminiscent of the Kennedys or of a Fitzgerald novel.

Maisie was certainly from a different time and era. Born in 1940, she was raised during the crisis of World War II and the economic boom that followed, and came of age with the Korean War in the background. These events don’t seem to penetrate her thought process and understanding of the world, though. We hear of stories summers spent in Maine on the family's isolated island, of going to the opera and ballet because close personal friends were in the performance, of attending private schools, and sitting through silent Sunday dinners with the same menu served over and over again.

Although her worldview may seem small, it is not easy to dismiss the inner turmoil she describes her mother, Sybil, as suffering from and the distress Maisie herself undergoes as she grows into adulthood. I will admit, some of the clichéd thoughts running through my head included "White-people problems!" Then, my feminist self reined those thoughts back in, and I more thoroughly considered Maisie and her mother’s dilemma as they functioned in East Coast, high-class American society in the mid 20th century. In the end, it reminded me of the angst that the beloved (or perhaps hated, depending on the reader) character of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby—Daisy Buchanan. Her famous line, “That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool,” describes the culture in which Maisie was raised. There was little to no expectation that women would do more than run the household, order dinners, and raise the children. That line of Daisy’s broke my heart when I first read Gatsby, and it becomes even more heartbreaking as you place the words in context with real women who suffered from social pressures to act and behave in a certain way that denied them the ability to develop into who they truly were.

The beauty of the memoir is to see the growth of Maisie and her mother. Despite it being an incredibly quick read—I finished it in an evening—it was fun to get into the world of someone from a completely different setting and absorb their world and understanding, and witness their transformation through time. 


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