Tara Clancy is only 36, but she manages to make her 1980s childhood feel like a long-lost era. In The Clancys of Queens, she gives us a coming-of-age memoir defined by the distinctive neighborhoods she grew up in: Broad Channel, Queens, a “bread crumb of an island” where her Irish-cop dad lived; Bellerose, her grandparents’ Italian-American enclave; and tony Bridgehampton, Long Island, where Clancy spent half her weekends with her mom and Mark, her mom’s well-to-do boyfriend.
A frequent contributor to “The Moth Radio Hour,” Clancy expanded her Moth stories for this memoir. She offers colorful character studies of the people who filled her young life, like cursing Grandma Rosalie (“Fahngool” was Rosalie’s “go-to, catchall punctuation”) and the barflies at Gregory’s bar—English Billy, Joey O’Dirt—where young Clancy and her dad were regulars, and where she had her first Communion party, with her large Irish clan that includes 21 first cousins in attendance.
An always-in-motion tomboy, Clancy loved her scrappy St. Gregory’s softball team and her best friend Esther, but not school. Unable to sit still in elementary school, she’d wander out of class to chat up any grown-ups she could find. The memoir follows her through her more difficult teen years, where she went from drinking and smoking pot daily to finding herself obsessed with Shakespeare and scraping together the money for college.
The oddities of Clancy’s upbringing make for some hilarious passages, but each chapter also forms a love letter—to her parents, Grandma Rosalie, Mark, her friends and lovers. Although she sometimes skates over darker material, like her dad’s drunk driving, her own teenage partying and a close friend’s abandoning her baby while in the grip of drugs, that’s a small complaint. Clancy has written a breezy, funny memoir with a wonderful cast of characters and a terrific sense of place.