One Woman's Story of Learning 'How to Love an American Man'

Read an excerpt from How to Love an American Man by Kristine Gasbarre

Kristine Gasbarre's debut memoir, How to Love an American Man, is already generating buzz as the next Eat Pray Love. But for those of you who didn't enjoy Eat Pray Love (which includes this reviewer), please, do not stop reading.

The early movie buzz surrounding this story is where the similarities end. Gasbarre's search for love may begin in New York and Italy, but it ends in the most unlikely of places -- her hometown in Pennsylvania -- and with the most unlikely of relationship gurus: her grandmother.

On shelves Aug. 16, this book -- or more accurately, Grandma Glo -- has the answers to every relationship quandry one ever could ponder. Below is an excerpt.

Excerpted from How to Love an American Man Copyright @ 2011 by Kristine Gasbarre. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins.

I have almost nothing in common with my grandmother. One Sunday when I was about twelve I burst through her front door to announce with great fanfare to all of my extended family that my cousin had just gotten her first period. While my three aunts rushed to said cousin’s side to nurse her like Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmothers, Grandma groped her chest with both hands and ducked into the kitchen. I followed her and popped a shrimp cocktail in my mouth. “Grandma, what?” I said. “This is huge.” In response, Grandma scrambled to the stove to stir Grandpa’s spaghetti sauce, which she’s ordinarily too daunted by his perfect recipe to touch. I think in that moment she’d have done anything not to have to show me how my frankness had flustered her.

Our views of womanhood have always been this different. I discuss with great candor topics that cause Grandma to blush red like a beet, and while she honors my youth and modern spirit by remaining silent, the discrepancies between us crash as loud as the sea. She never knew her father; mine is her affectionate and smiling third son. She never finished college; I graduated with my master’s. She never traveled or lived alone; I spent all of my twenties questing and introspecting to understand where I fit in the world. She married my grandpa when she was nineteen; last year at twenty-eight I moved back in with my parents to decide whether it was time to wrap up my quarterlife adventures of living in New York and Europe.

On the spectrum between traditional and contemporary, Grandma Gloria occupies the demure, cross-ankled, ladylike end, while I dance loud and proud at the opposite extreme. Intellectually we understand our inherent responsibilities to love each other, and we do—but to say we understand each other would be, to employ Grandma’s 1940s terminology, a fib. However, there is one subject on which we see eye-to-eye: my grandfather. In the year and a half since he died, just two months before their sixtieth anniversary, I have grown to appreciate that my grandma and I share an equally intense affinity for the first-generation all-American alpha male that our family and community adored. She was his wife, I was his firstborn grandchild, and of course Grandma’s relationship with Grandpa was very different than mine. But she and I had a similar goal: in everything we did, we both hoped to please him.

To me, Grandpa was the perfect man. He was a self-taught engineer and entrepreneur of our family’s now-international business that makes industrial parts for cars and appliances. He’d helped to liberate the Jews from the concentration camps as a soldier in World War II. He went to Mass most Sundays, raised money for our schools, and threw parties so legendary that last year at our tenth annual bocce ball tournament we toasted with his signature martinis to celebrate his memory. And he took care of my grandma with such unshakable devotion that you could’ve sworn she was the only woman God had ever created. For her every need and insecurity and reason for excitement or celebration, he was there. With all of his hard work and dynamism and steadfastness, he built a modern American life for the two of them—five smart kids, twelve happy grandkids, three houses, golf on the weekends, and a pontoon on our central Pennsylvania lake. Grandpa had a vision for his life and his family, and he made it happen. He was a great guy and an amazing man. About two years ago, just a few months before he was diagnosed with lung cancer and still smiling and well, I told him that if I ever found a man as enterprising as he was, I’d be the happiest girl in the world.

Since I was a kid my grandpa had always cheered on my achievements very vocally, but just before he got sick he confided in my parents something he’d kept silent about: he was beginning to worry I’d never find a husband and settle down. During a regular call to him after church one lonely Sunday as I strolled past couples brunching at bistros, I gently set the record straight. “I live in New York, Grandpa,” I told him, trying to talk over the roar of traffic but not loudly enough for people on the street to hear me. “The men here are impossible, all they’re after is sex and money and when I date them I feel invisible.” Then I spotted the lean, tan boyfriend of a tiny blonde in a tube dress. He was dropping a bite of French toast on the sidewalk and encouraging their puppy to snatch it up. Well, I thought, almost all the men here are impossible. I myself had a hard time locating the ones who were . . . let’s say . . . possible, and I blamed our American pursuit of self-advancement for my romantic drought. In an effort to replenish my hopes about men (and any sense I’d ever possessed of feeling alluring), I planned a vacation in Italy to visit the village outside Rome where Grandpa’s parents were born and married before settling in rural Pennsylvania in what’s now my hometown.


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