Author: Scott McClanahan
Published: March 2013 by Two Dollar Radio
First Lines: “There were 13 of them. The children had names that ended in Y sounds.”
Rating: 4.25/5 calls to 911 to get the ambulance to take you to the store to buy 7-Up for your son
HOLY BALLS YOU GUYS I AM WRITING A BOOK REVIEW. Yes, yes, I actually read my ass a book and now I’m reviewing the motherfucker*.
*Apologies to Scott McClanahan and Two Dollar Radio for referring to the book as “motherfucker.” I have no evidence at all that the book fucked any mothers.
I didn’t know anything about Crapalachia when it arrived in my mailbox. I didn’t read the blurb on the back of the book. I knew two things going into it: one, that Scott McClanahan had a somewhat cheeky way of referring to Appalachia, to which I can relate, having my own roots sprawling through the same area of the world; two, as a setting, it would (or should) feature highly in the book, since the cover had “A biography of a place” as the tagline.
I have no damn idea how to sum up how I feel about this book, and that’s the truth. So, I’m not going to try to sum it up. Here are some thoughts I had about this book:
- I didn’t get any sense of place from the book, even though Appalachia seemed to be intended to be present enough to be an additional character. I grew up in Kentucky and my mom lived in West Virginia (where the book takes place), so I admit I had some expectations; I didn’t really feel Appalachia in this book. Other than some brief references to coal miners and coal mining, it could have been set in a bunch of different places.
- After I readjusted my brain from expecting a story about Appalachia, I thought his stories about his family were just about perfect. So much so that I actually just deleted a bunch of stuff I wrote and bumped up the star rating a half-star. No, it wasn’t the book I expected to read. But it was a book I really enjoyed reading once my brain wrapped itself around the actuality of the book.
- I found McClanahan’s style a little jarring at first, but it smoothed out quickly.
- People who liked Running With Scissors and/or The Perks of Being a Wallflower will probably enjoy this book. Or people who generally like books featuring fucked-up families.
- I’m half-saddened, half-happy that McClanahan felt the need to add an appendix to the book to talk about what was true and what he had taken liberties with. Saddened for the obvious reason–has it really become necessary to strip away the magic of a book because some people can’t friggin’ figure out that literature is not the same thing as journalism? (Thank you, James Frey, for putting one over so hard on Oprah that this is now a Big Fucking Deal.) McClanahan, however, handled the appendix so well that it was a great addition to the book. I’ve read other books where the “confession” retroactively diminished the power of the story I’d read, but this one didn’t, and I was glad.
- Reading this book directly after reading a book by Barbara Kingsolver is probably not the best idea and might have been what flummoxed my brain.
Overall: yes, I think this is a book to read. Once I stopped looking for Appalachia, the magic of the stories got under my skin and wouldn’t let go. The characters rolled off the page and tapped me on the shoulder. I laughed and I grew somber. I felt. I related. Good job, Mr. McClanahan.