The Magazine

No Excuses

Life’s lessons from the other side of the rainbow.

Jun 18, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 38 • By JOE QUEENAN
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Books celebrating one’s triumph over poverty share certain themes. Education is invariably singled out as the only way out of the wilderness. The author must acknowledge the intercession of others—a grandparent, an employer, a teacher, a mysterious benefactor—and never, ever claim that he made it all on his own. But all good books about poverty, whether Jane Eyre or Great Expectations or Black Boy or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—no matter how harrowing, no matter how sad—contain a message of hope. Otherwise, no one would read them. 

Rolling Pennies in the Dark contains a beautiful passage where the author’s grandfather points to the radiant sky and explains that if you can follow the leprechauns to the end of the rainbow, a pot of gold coins will await you there. If you grow up poor in America, and you do not believe that a pot of gold is waiting for you at the end of the rainbow, you will not survive. This is the most powerful fairy tale the world has ever known. And like all powerful fairy tales, it sometimes comes true. 

Joe Queenan is the author, most recently, of Closing Time: A Memoir.