Read "It Hit Me Like a Ton of Bricks" by Catherine Lloyd Burns!
(extraneous commentary by Tim Horrigan, June 12, 2006)
One of my old college chums, Catherine Lloyd Burns has a wonderful book out, a memoir entitled It Hit Me Like a Ton of Bricks : A Memoir of a Mother and Daughter. She definitely rates a place on my Miscellaneous Links page, even though her web site is only one page long:
While I'm on a tangent about the Web, I should mention that her mother, Red Burns (the woman in the upper left hand corner of the front cover of the book), had a lot to do with the invention of the Web as we know it today. Back in the early 1970s she was a film-maker who saw the potential of cheap cable-TV bandwidth and even cheaper video cameras, and for many years she has been the head of a wide-ranging new media project at New York University, the Interactive Telecommunications Program:
It Hit Me Like a Ton of Bricks : A Memoir of a Mother and Daughter by Catherine Lloyd Burns. Farrar Straus & Giroux/ North Point 2006. ISBN: 0-86547-708-6.
So, anyway, the thing is, I feel like quickly cobbling together a Fan Page. First let me say that Catherine is Canadian, hence the title refers to being hit with 1000kg of bricks (which is about 200lb more than the American 2000-pound ton.)
The book is about three generations of Burns women: catherine's mother Red (originally, Goldie), Catherine, and Catherine's daughter Olive (sometimes known as Ollie and/or Tweety.) I never met Catherine's mother, though I feel like I met her because I visited her apartment a few times and spoke to her on the phone once or twice. Occasionally, Catherine liked to invite a few of us over when her mother was away. We were a pretty scurvy crew but we always behaved well at the huge and absurdly well-furnished apartment overlooking Washington Square Park. (It was like something out of a freakin' Woody Allen movie: in my memory the apartment took up an entire city block.) Catherine herself always lived elsewhere: first she had a place on Claremont Avenue in a colorfully named building called the Medina (or possibly its twin, the Mecca, which was next door), then a couple of places near the corner of 110th and Broadway, and then she eventually ended downtown in a cute little studio on Washington Place in the same building where Mayor Koch lived. As far as I know the title of the book does not refer to an incident one gray Sunday morning in 1980 when the ceiling of the place on Claremont Avenue literally fell on her: it was a big mess, but it was less than 1000kg of stuff which fell on her, and anyway it was plaster, not brick.
Her book is in large part a harrowing (yet ultimately redemptive) saga of drugs, madness and bulimia— but I actually remember Catherine as being a solid type, one of those friends who serves (or tries to serve) as an anchor of sanity. I suppose she did go through a bulimic phase at some point, but she was also a generally good eater and she was (presumably, still is) quite a good cook. Perhaps this means that her story is exaggerated, but more likely this means my friends at the time were so nutty that even one of my sanest friends was still a whack job. And of course it means that what I remember is quite different from what someone else remembers from the same period.
Catherine is the model for Jenny in the Forgotten Liars, although my Jenny marries a boy quite different from the man Catherine married in real life. (Ironically, the guy who was the primary model for Jenny's husband Byron married a woman named Jenny.)
In addition to writing this book, Catherine wrote the screenplay for the film Everything Put Together, has been in a number of movies, and she was Malcolm's grade school teacher on Malcolm in the Middle. I had absolutely nothing to do with her success except I did help her pick out her stage name. It was on a disappointingly cold night in May 1986, and she and I and the head bartender from the Great Jones Cafe were sitting at a sidewalk cafe somewhere on First Avenue. At the time she was known as Cathy Burns, but there was another actor named Cathy Burns. This was not a problem until Cathy ("our" Cathy, I mean) reached the point where she could join the union. She thought of being Franny Lloyd, which was JD Salinger-ish. So I suggested Catherine Bernstein, which she said was "too Jewish," which seemed like saying that my name, Timothy Horrigan was "too Irish." I told her that her stage name should something as close to her real name as possible— and she ended up choosing the name Catherine Lloyd Burns. I wasn't just saying that because I have anything against actors using fake names: I just felt that this actor needed to use her real name. Lloyd Burns was her late father's name, by the way. In all fairness, she probably would have picked that name without my input (and I also suggested some alternatives that were even more offbeat than "Frannie Lloyd." The only one I remember was the real name of someone I didn't really know when I was in grad school at USC: Marisa d'Amico. Which is a good name if you're Italian, especially it's your real name.)
(The bartender was my best friend for many years, but we drifted apart. He's no longer a bartender. But for a long time he was the most illustrious bartender in the East Village, until he gave up alcohol altogether and started leading a totally different life. He was more powerful than the Mayor. He is even more absent from Cathy's book than I am. There is a sad but kinda funny story about mother and children which is also missing from the book. One particularly gloomy winter, many years before he became the East Village's most famous bartender, for reasons which were never made clear, he invited Cathy, myself, and his cousin to fly down from the City to stay at his mother's condo on the Gulf of Mexico for a few days. He had an incredibly difficult mother— 100,000 times more difficult than Cathy's mom, and 50,000 times more difficult than mine. But Cathy loved her right away and actually told us how much fun she was.)
(Catherine as Malcolm's teacher)
Here is my Amazon.com review of "It Hit Me Like a Ton of Bricks."
***** "She perfectly captures the looks and smells of everything.", June 22, 2006
I was gonna wait and think about this book for a
while I after read it... but RM's sister's review annoyed me.
(Although, the sister did give Catherine 1 Star instead of the
lowest possible 0 stars.)
And anyway, here is her publisher's press kit:
Hit Me Like a Ton of Bricks
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
North Point Press
"Life is a series of losses.
I've decided to be very Zen about it. I have lost two husbands, my
parents, my brother, countless friends; it is just one loss after
another. You might as well get used to it." So muses the
author's mother in this poignant and humorous memoir about mothers
"From the very first sentence
of Catherine Burns' simultaneously very funny and very poignant
book, it is apparent that we are in assured hands. The
ambivalence, closeness, and fractious bond of mothers and
daughters has rarely been so keenly and beautifully observed.
Filled with moments of hilarity and heartbreak, any reader, male
or female, who has ever had a mother, will find here vindication
and finely calibrated sympathy. It shouldn't come as a complete
surprise that Burns is an indelible literary presence; anyone who
has had the privilege to see her act cannot forget her. But still,
what an accomplishment it is to find that, on paper, she is also
possessed of that rarest and most yearned-for of qualities: a
voice." —David Rakoff, author of Fraud
As an actress, Catherine Lloyd Burns has appeared on numerous television shows, including Malcolm in the Middle, E.R., Law and Order, and Al Franken's Lateline. This is her first book. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and daughter.
Excerpted from It Hit Me Like a
Ton of Bricks by Catherine Lloyd Burns. Copyright © 2006
by Catherine Lloyd Burns. Published in May 2006 by Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.