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Buffalo Gal- Book Review

November 1, 2010

Buffalo Gal

Laura Pedersen

Fulcrum Publishing 2008 $15.00 307 pages

thanks to Nicole Bruce of AuthorsOnTheWeb for sending this.

Laura Pedersen’s memoir opens with her, at 14 years old, stepping onto the floor of the American Stock Exchange in downtown Manhattan. Stocks make sense to the teenage Laura, their systems, their puzzles, and the manic pace of the fast-moving, signaling traders all around her, cramming sandwiches with one hand, while gesturing with the other.

My first thought, reading this, was that I was reading Turtle Wexler’s autobiography.  Pedersen’s gawky preteen self, smartassy, fascinated by numbers and intrigued by games of chance, has plenty in common with my favorite character in Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. Though Pedersen, master of wry self-deprecation, would have said she wasn’t coordinated enough to kick shins.

Pedersen’s account of her childhood also has clear outlines of what would become Hallie, in Beginner’s Luck and its sequels. Hyperkinetic and curious, growing up before anyone had ever heard of ADHD, Laura Pedersen tells very funny stories of having a sharp business sense as a kid. (I see more Turtle Wexler here, of course.) She likens a teenage enterprise of working as a short order cook to the wonderful rush of playing several hands of blackjack at once. At a school without candy bars in vending machines, she bought candy in bulk and sold it on campus at a markup close to 7-Eleven’s. Working at a bakery where she stored the day’s cash in a paper bag, and was encouraged to toss the day’s receipts, and the day’s unsold bread, she took the surplus bread to families whose houses were on her way home.

Especially in the first few riffs in this book, Pedersen works to create a sense of Buffalo, and a clear sense of growing up in the seventies and early eighties.  The level of detail in her descriptions of life and slang in the sixties, or of trying to save heat on a cold Buffalo night, are exactly the kind of social history I love best. But— because the particular personal details of Laura Pedersen’s family and childhood are so goofy and eccentric, the general background passages really do fade into the background. Although I love the attention she pays to language, down to how parents would call kids in for dinner, or Catholics saying “god willing,” more times than a conversation demanded, it was even more fun to read about Pedersen’s Scandinavian grandmother playing the stock market like a pro, or her grandfather working as a waiter.

Being an only child myself, I gave Pedersen and her parents a closer read. They seemed to move around each other like parallel adults, most of the time. At one point, young Laura railed at her mother because she didn’t have a bedtime or a curfew. Her mother said something sensible along the lines of “go to bed when you’re tired,” leaving Hallie, I mean, Laura, (read Beginner’s Luck, trust me!) to figure it out for herself. Laura’s mother became a nurse, and was the kind of woman who could intimidate anyone, or diagnose pneumonia from across the street. Her father was a court reporter, wreathed in a perpetual cloud of smoke.

I like Pedersen’s style for memoir as much as I liked it in her fiction: cheerfully self-deprecating, punctuated with wry asides. This would make a good audiobook, because the language is like a series of riffing vignettes, loosely holding together a larger narrative. I think, though, that I would want Laura Pedersen to read it herself.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 10, 2012 11:06 pm

    I pciked this up the other day, admittedly because of the buzz. It's good to know you approve.It's ok to read The Help. As a southern girl about an hour outside of Jackson, MS, I was duty-bound to read it and so very thankful I did. You'll meet people you'll remember for a long time.

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