A bits-and-pieces memoir of growing up in a working-class West Virginia family in the 1950s and ’60s.
Pleska (co-editor: Fed from the Blade: Tales and Poems from the Mountains, 2012)—a freelance writer, leader of writing workshops in her home state and book reviewer for the Charleston Gazette—builds her coming-of-age memoir from a few dozen brief anecdotes, an approach that frequently gives the feeling of being notes for a larger, finished work. Following an introduction in which she recalls making mud pies when she was 5, Pleska groups stories about her and her family under the headings Images, Awakening, Awareness, Reaction, Loss and Strength. An only child growing up amid assorted storytelling adults, the author absorbed their stories and retells them here. In one instance, the same incident is recounted three times, once by the grandfather, once by the father and once more from the author’s point of view. Pleska’s earliest memories often read suspiciously adult in the descriptions of settings, conversations, thoughts and emotions. The best stories are those about her hardscrabble family, which include especially vivid pictures of her paternal grandparents, Mommaw and Pawpaw. A particular gem is her account of being taken along by Pawpaw to buy a bottle of bootleg whiskey from a man who ran a cockfighting business on the side. Pleska is candid about her hard-drinking father, a mill worker whose binges and absences from home were constant trials for her long-suffering mother. The author gives a muddier image of her mother, who seems to be a mass of contradictions—though Pleska credits her with teaching her to endure the adversities of life.
An uneven portrait of rural and small-town West Virginia life that is most likely to have its greatest appeal among nostalgic West Virginians.