A Childhood: The Biography of a Place

Penguin Classics. Mar. 2022. 192p. ISBN 9780143135333. pap. $16. MEMOIR
Already known for distilling the grotesqueries of his native rural South into viciously intoxicating fictions, in 1978 Crews recounted his hardscrabble upbringing in Bacon County, GA, resulting in one of the most moving and powerful memoirs ever written. A mere synopsis of the hardships of death, disease, injury, drunkenness, violence, and plain bad luck that beset Crews and his kin, for whom at times “being alive was like being awake in a nightmare,” hardly suggests the resonant beauty of this telling. Born into a culture of story, Crews counts among his formative influences spinning tales about the beautiful and curiously unmaimed people in the Sears Roebuck catalog, sometimes with the assistance of his friend Willalee’s superannuated grandma Auntie, born into slavery and given to strange, shamanistic proclamations. Auntie, he recalls, “made the best part of me.”
VERDICT In rough-hewn speech fluent as a river and forceful as a hammer blow, Crews captures the warmth, dignity, and brutality of his people and their fierce and awful devotion to home. This is his masterpiece.
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