Told in reminiscences, this novel is one person's story of growing up in 1950s Chicago. It is not a very pretty picture.
Johnny Ryba was your average resident of post-war America. Dad worked long hours driving a forklift. He was offered lots of weekend hours, but refused them all, preferring to spend weekends at home. Mom stayed at home, and started drinking. An occasional beer turned into scotch every day. Being the sole care-giver for Rosie, his younger sister who was severely autistic, might have had something to do with it. The parents argued constantly, but always behind closed doors and at night.
One night, Dad dies in a car accident, and the body is immediately cremated. Mom is forced to put Rosie in an institution, where she spends the rest of her life. Mom continues drinking, and the yelling and emotional abuse against Johnny gets worse and worse. He takes care of all the cooking and cleaning, because Mom is usually passed out.
In high school, Johnny gets into a relationship with Holly. He puts off bringing her home to meet Mom for as long as possible. He doesn't know which Mom she will meet, the "happy" drunk or the "mean and rotten" drunk. Mom actually quits drinking for several months to impress Holly. Johnny is unable to tell anyone, including Holly, about his home life, even after learning that Holly is going away to college, because her home life is similar to Johnny's. Later in life, after Johnny is married, he learns some really unpleasant things about his sister, his mother and his "beloved" father.
This is a really well-done, and really interesting, piece of storytelling. Words like "sad," touching" and "poignant" also work very well. It is also recommended for anyone who over-indulges with alcohol, and thinks that their drinking does not affect their spouse or family. Read this book, then think again.