McClanahan's writing is superb; minimalistic but beautiful and poignant when it needs to be. He doesn't tell us what we need to feel while reading. Or manipulates readers with "emotion porn." What happens just happens. There's humor mixed with tragedy, because that's life, regardless of where or how we live.
It's been said that the poor living in the hills of the Appalachian mountains, better known as "hillbillies," are the last group it's still seen as socially acceptable to ridicule. I'm not so sure about that, since the same could be said about those who are overweight (damn, that's two strikes against me). But I do know that that the kind of people I grew up with, went to school with, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and myself, have been exploited, humiliated, manipulated, and ignored by the rest of the country for what seems like forever. Because, POVERTY! Hilarious, right!?
In the appendix to his book, McClanahan mentions that his work shouldn't be roped into the genre of "Appalachian Minstrel Show." In other words exploiting its people and culture, reducing it to cariacture, to entertain and make money. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just watch the lineup on TLC or the History Channel for more than 5 seconds. But then he calls out certain authors in particular, like Lee Smith, which seems a bit pompous. I've been to one of her readings and she's anything but a minstrel. She grew up in the area she most often includes in her novels, and has every right to write about them in her own way. Appalachia belongs to all Appalachians. Or at least to those who pronounce it correctly.
But I still can't recommend Crapalachia enough. It's a creative semi-non-fiction biography of a very real place, and the people and memories it holds. Here are some passages:
I saw the graves filling up all around her and saw how Grandma would be here beneath it one day and then Nathan and then one day Stanley, and then one day...me. So I saw her whisper, "Oh lordie," and claim she was dying like she always did.
I wished we were already back at home so I could eat some more peanut butter fudge. Nothing lasts.
I snapped the picture and it was like she was already gone.
It was like I saw that she was dying right then--real slow--and she knew the secret sound. It's a sound that all of us hear. It's a sound that sounds like this. Tick. Tick. Tick.
AND NOW A MOMENT TO ONCE AGAINREMEMBER THE THEME OF THIS BOOK.
The theme of this book is a sound. It goes like this: Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. It's the sound you're hearing now, and it's one of the saddest sounds in the world.
I love the author's interjection there. "REMINDER! This book is about mortality! Just like everything is!"
I knew he believed in something that none of us ever do anymore. He believed in the nastiest word in the world. He believed in KINDNESS. Please tell me you remember kindness. Please tell me you remember kindness and joy, you cool motherfuckers.
I looked at Ruby now and I saw all of the things she knew. She knew how to do all kinds of things no one else knew how to do.She knew how to render lard and make soap.She knew how to make biscuits from scratch and slaughter a hawg if she had to. And she knew how to do things that are all forgotten now--things that people from Ohio buy because it says homemade on the tag. I looked at the quilt she was working on. The quilt wasn't a fucking symbol of anything. It was something she made to keep her children warm. Remember that. Fuck symbols.
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