All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
Michael Patrick MacDonald
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A breakaway bestseller since its first printing, All Souls takes us deep into Michael Patrick MacDonald’s Southie, the proudly insular neighborhood with the highest concentration of white poverty in America. The anti-busing riots of 1974 forever changed Southie, Boston’s working class Irish community, branding it as a violent, racist enclave. Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up in Southie’s Old Colony housing project. He describes the way this world within a world felt to the troubled yet keenly gifted observer he was even as a child: “[as if] we were protected, as if the whole neighborhood was watching our backs for threats, watching for all the enemies we could never really define.”
But the threats-poverty, drugs, a shadowy gangster world-were real. MacDonald lost four of his siblings to violence and poverty. All Souls is heart-breaking testimony to lives lost too early, and the story of how a place so filled with pain could still be “the best place in the world.”
We meet Ma, Michael’s mini-skirted, accordian-playing, usually single mother who cares for her children there are eventually eleven through a combination of high spirits and inspired “getting over.” And there are Michael’s older siblings Davey, sweet artist-dreamer; Kevin, child genius of scam; and Frankie, Golden Gloves boxer and neighborhood hero whose lives are high-wire acts played out in a world of poverty and pride.
But too soon Southie becomes a place controlled by resident gangster Whitey Bulger, later revealed to be an FBI informant even as he ran the drug culture that Southie supposedly never had. It was a world primed for the escalation of class violence-and then, with deadly and sickening inevitability, of racial violence that swirled around forced busing. MacDonald, eight years old when the riots hit, gives an explosive account of the asphalt warfare. He tells of feeling “part of it all, part of something bigger than I’d ever imagined, part of something that was on the national news every night.”
Within a few years-a sequence laid out in All Souls with mesmerizing urgency-the neighborhood’s collapse is echoed by the MacDonald family’s tragedies. All but destroyed by grief and by the Southie code that
doesn’t allow him to feel it, MacDonald gets out. His work as a peace activist, first in the all-Black neighborhoods of nearby Roxbury, then back to the Southie he can’t help but love, is the powerfully redemptive close to a story that will leave readers utterly shaken and changed.
brother, you’ve got some nerve, strolling in here with no coat on!” Muadi DiBinga was talking about me to an invisible audience, and waiting for my explanation. I had walked to my new job through a blizzard, and I wasn’t wearing a coat. Our boss Kathie came out of her office to see what was going on. Then she joined in, harassing me for looking like I wasn’t sleeping or eating. After I’d left Old Colony, I rested a few hours a night on friends’ couches around Boston, secretly eating at soup
who you talked to, about things like this. You never knew who was on what side, or who was related in our neighborhood. But despite the worried look in people’s eyes when they opened the papers every day to get the update on one of the most brutal murders we’d heard of, the shock only lasted so long. Summer arrived, and soon everything was back to normal for most of us. “Jesus, I love you,” Davey mumbled, pacing past me and the women on the stoop watching the black-and-white TV that someone had
the keys to Kathy’s apartment too. And some neighbors said they thought Richie Amoroso pushed Kathy off the roof in the struggle that broke out. Every day we called the hospital, and it turned into months of hearing the same thing: “Danger list,” the voice would say before hanging up on me, as if they were sick of me calling. But I was relieved, after every call, not to be told she was dead. Every day through the winter months of 1981, we woke up to continue our watch. Some nights I couldn’t
white-picket-fence types, and others were rich. “What’s a trust fund?” I remember asking. “Ah, man, it’s nothing—just ’cause my dad’s rich doesn’t mean I am. I gotta wait on it. Got a dollar for a beer, dude?” But wherever these people came from, they didn’t like it. I’d always preferred black music—soul, then disco, and now hip-hop and rap. The words made more sense to me. But I also liked the energy and rage of punk rock; I just couldn’t relate to the lyrics about life in the suburbs, and
get into all the excitement about cops and Johnnie’s guns. Steven said Tommy seemed to get bored with “The Price Is Right” and kept carrying on about the cop on the phone. He asked if he could go to the kitchen for a cup of water. Stevie shrugged his shoulders, wondering why Tommy would ask permission in our house. “He walked toward the kitchen, looked at me out of the corner of his eye, then made a sharp turn, jumped on the washing machine, and reached up to the shelf.” Stevie said Tommy pulled