Reviewed by Sara Hodon
Buffalo Unbound: A Celebration
by Laura Pedersen
Paperback: 196 pages, Sept 10, ISBN-13: 978-1555917357
Authors have been immortalizing their beloved hometowns—whether as a real, warts-and-all depiction, or a fictional version of a real place—for generations. Would anyone know anything about Lake Woebegon without Garrison Keillor’s charming tales? Would John Updike’s Rabbit series be as relatable had Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom come from the big city, rather than Brewer, PA, a community based on Updike’s own hometown of Shillington, PA? Probably not. But for many authors, writing about the communities in which they grew up is simply a love letter to their early days and the people and experiences that shaped them.
Bestselling author Laura Pedersen tries for a different approach in her recent release Buffalo Unbound. Rather than creating characters and a plot that happen to be set in Buffalo, the city is the story. Pedersen was inspired to write the book as a follow up to her 2008 release Buffalo Gal, which recalls her days growing up in a once-thriving, largely middle-class city in upstate New York, and as a response to Buffalo being ranked #2 on Forbes magazine’s list of “America’s Fastest-Dying Cities” in 2008. Through her memoir, Pedersen sets out to show that maybe Buffalo isn’t quite what it used to be, but it’s not quite ready for life support yet, either. It’s merely a city in flux, like so many others across the United States.
Pedersen leaves no stone unturned in her examination of her beloved city. She devotes chapters to the city’s food , including its best-kept secret, sponge candy—“Carmelized sugar with spun molasses surrounded by milk or dark chocolate”—and explains that this local delicacy “thrives in cool, overcast weather (not unlike silverfish) and makes up the top layer of the Buffalo food pyramid, right between chicken wings and beef on a weck (thinly sliced rare roast beef and horseradish sauce on kummelweck—a roll topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds), but without the international notoriety”. She also spotlights landmarks such as the famous Forest Lawn Cemetery (the final resting place for president Millard Fillmore and R&B singer Rick James, but not the same as the one where celebrities like Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor are buried—that’s in Hollywood), traditions, neighborhoods, schools (with special emphasis on the city’s famous Cleveland Hill Fire, a fatal blaze at an elementary school where 10 children perished), and of course, some of its most colorful characters—past and present. Pedersen doesn’t get sappy or sentimental—instead, she paints an honest picture of a real place that holds some special memories for her. She isn’t glossing over any of those memories, either—Pedersen writes in a straightforward manner, tinged with humor, and her underlying message seems to be “Sure, Buffalo has fallen on some hard times, but there are still great things about it, and here are some of them.”
Through her nostalgic but realistic lens, readers may find themselves looking at their own hometowns in a new way—one that is not the idyllic memory of childhood, but more true to life, warts and all. It is clear that Pedersen makes no apologies for Buffalo’s hardscrabble past, but instead chooses to celebrate the unique spirit and character of her hometown.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com