The title of this post should also include the words, “Masterful Story Telling.” My review of Growing Up Dead in Texas, by Stephen Graham Jones.
If there’s anyway for me to review this book without relating to you how it spoke to me, well, I don’t know what that way is. In that, to me, is much of the beauty of Jones’ story telling, his humanity, his willingness to express vulnerability on the pages draws us in, we can relate.
Unlike previous offerings from Dr. Jones, this is…call it fictionalized non-fiction, as Jones states in the Preface, “I probably shouldn’t even be doing this – I’ve never written non-fiction.” This is memoir, yet expertly dressed, the “characters” artfully disguised, as he takes us back to Greenwood, Texas with him, not so much to investigate but to understand “a fire that could be seen for miles, a fire that split the community,” and some of the events prior to, that connect all the players, and the aftermath.
But what is that really saying? This is where I don’t know how to review this book, and not give its’ secrets, without telling how it spoke to me.
Small towns are different, growing up in a small town, it’s different and it’s the same. I can trek the forty odd miles from my house to two towns I spent most of my childhood in, without ever getting on the Interstate. Trek the forty odd miles back on completely different roads, without ever getting on the Interstate. Ag towns, rail towns, we weren’t farmers, we were town kids. As a teenager, my husband lumped watermelons summers and learned how to drive “any forkin’ thing around.” It’s all the same, back roads and country but for the people who were farmers, the families, we went to school with those kids, one high school then, their family names gracing housing developments and shopping plaza’s these days, as one by one they sold off the land, well, those were the families who built the town or kept it there after the rail came through. ( They wore Wranglers, we wore Levi’s, but Friday night at the football game we were all Bulldogs.) Things get done differently in small towns, quieter maybe, hand shakes, deals, and let’s just say there was no way the judge’s daughter wasn’t going to make cheerleader. Is this where I name drop and say who I dated and she married? No. Because if you come from one of those towns, you don’t do that because it’s just not something that you do. ( I wouldn’t want to anyway. I like writing fiction.) Definitely not if you’re still living just a stones throw away. There is an understanding about minding business, knowing that, everybody probably knows your business, one way or another, because you’re all going to see each other on Sunday, or Monday. You learn. I wasn’t born there but had lived there some fifteen years before one of the old farmers drinking coffee one morning called me, “A town girl.” I remember resenting it. There’s people who stay in small towns and people who are itching to leave, at one time or another, I felt both those emotions about it.
So to go back to your small town and ask questions about a mysterious fire? All these years after the however sketchy facts? And not let those sleeping dogs lie? I wouldn’t do it. I google mapped to check if a landmark was still there.
Jones goes there.
Growing Up Dead in Texas takes you inside the small town and what happens when something actually happens, in this case, a fire that no one knows for sure who started. But it wasn’t just the fire, not to state the obvious but, fires cost money, and in a farming town, that could mean everything, food on, or off, the table, depending on where the fire is at, everybody knows that, but it was more, it was generations of events that no one ever really talked about, intertwining through the perspective of young Jonas King. And Jones, as an adult, winding his way through what are, at times, awkward conversations with the people who were adults at the time of the fire, the people who knew things about each other that they would never tell, events that occurred before he, Jones, was born, creating a fabric of loyalty and understanding, of love and lies. Ultimately leading to perhaps a more personal revelation, and the comprehension of the secrets that we keep for those we care about, simply because we do, and what it means to be part of a family. Jones conveys that awkwardness to the reader, the delicate conversations about uncomfortable things, adding a deeper layer to the story as we understand, all these years later, these people would still prefer not to talk about this, but then at the same time, feeling, maybe, what does it matter? To talk about them now? Perhaps there is a healing to be had too.
Stephen Graham Jones gets us in there with the details, with the poignantly noticed and noted everyday habits that we can all relate to, where do you drop your keys when you get home? We forget that it isn’t a story about Hot Wheels, about the attendant childhood memories and pets, until Jones carefully reminds us, time and again, pulling us back to center on this fast road to coming of age. A joy to read, beautifully written with the subtle mastery of language, of story telling, that his fans have come to trust and appreciate, Growing Up Dead in Texas will take you back to where you were when, and have you wondering all over again, about the mysteries of your own youth.
Growing Up Dead In Texas by Stephen Graham Jones
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