Title: If Trees Could Talk – a memoir
Author: Margot McMahon
Genre/page length: Memoir – 315 pages
Date published/publisher: 2022/Aquarius Press
Reviewed by: Rebecca Hallie Swanson
There’s a lot of lineage to absorb in If Trees Could Talk – a memoir by Margot McMahon, a well-regarded sculptor and artist who has chronicled the story of her family in a detailed and captivating fashion. Trees is Part II of a family saga that takes place in multiple settings, features a large cast of relatives and jumps from locale to locale, often overseas. Although at times it’s difficult to follow the various timelines, the author gives the reader a rich and lively picture of each location with a narrative that covers greater Chicagoland and many other intriguing locations during key moments in history.
Skip the disjointed introduction and dive right in to the milieu of this richly told, multi-generational saga about Irish-Catholics who immigrate, fight in wars, eke out a living, fall in love, raise children, travel and experience a myriad of events that most of us only read about. Many of the family members are socially progressive, artistic, or possess boundless energy to reach their goals. They are a lively and entertaining bunch who, overall, embrace love, their faith and all that life has to offer.
The author figures into much of the saga, and her tales of cheating death while climbing icy Canadian mountains and managing to stay calm when she and young children flip a canoe in choppy waters are two examples of holding the reader fast to the story. Tender snippets of family conversations, losing loved ones to illness, accidents and old age, and the regular business of making a living and raising a family are told with honesty and warmth.
This well-told memoir would have benefitted from another round of edits. For example, names including Jane Addams of Hull House fame is first spelled “Jean”; later, Suzy, owner of a diner, is repeatedly spelled “Susy.” There are many other examples that may make an astute reader wince, but McMahon’s energy and passion for telling her family’s story is more in the foreground than the editorial gaffes.
Reviewer: Rebecca Hallie Swanson worked for 30 years leading communications in the arenas of health care, insurance, higher education, the arts and membership associations in the Twin Cities and Chicago. Now living in Northwest Wisconsin, she devotes time to writing projects and volunteers for McKenzie Lakes Association and Wisconsin Writers Association.
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