A writer remembers the indignities, the poignancies, the cruelties, and the compromises demanded by the deep poverty of her Alabama youth.
In her debut volume, Moss says she wishes "to go back in time—to heal old wounds and reclaim my family." Such old wounds—and such a family. Her mother was an ex-Marine with a heart capable of myriad acts of forgiveness for her husband, a drunken, abusive ne'er-do-well whose serial failures as father, husband, and wage-earner would qualify him for a Faulkner novel—or for a guest-spot with Jerry Springer. Moss, along with her numerous siblings, somehow developed the character to persevere, despite (or because of?) Dad's eccentricities and the absence of amenities (like adequate food, clothing, shelter). Moss adopts a rough chronology, occasionally leaping elsewhere in time to visit a moment of particular importance or to prepare us for something of ensuing significance. She begins with a stunning, symbolic account of her mother's preparing a "meal" of seeds they had intended to plant—seeds saturated in pesticide: there is nothing else to eat. With increasing momentum, Moss takes us through a weird series of sensational funhouse incidents. In the 1960s her father yelled out the car window to blacks marching to Washington: "Get a goddamned job!" Cruel classmates, noting Moss's comprehensive dental problems, called her "Bucky Beaver." (She later underwent a painful experimental facial surgery, emerging from it to more closely resemble Zeus's daughter Aphrodite—Moss substitutes "Venus," confusing the Roman and Greek names for the goddess of beauty.) A tornado "sucked from under the porch in a feathery cloud" the chickens they had hoped to raise. Her uncle Jake lost a game of Russian Roulette, blowing part of his skull out onto his front steps. Moss divorced twice (one husband beat her), had a son, went to graduate school. Her father, unable to tolerate chemotherapy, shot himself in the head.
A lucid and sometimes lurid reminder that pain, deprivation, and humiliation need not destroy; they can also animate. (3 b&w photos)