New York Times columnist Blow’s hardscrabble memoir about growing up poor and black in rural Louisiana.
It’s safe to say that debut memoirist Blow made his bones as a newspaper journalist in quite a different fashion than most of his peers at the stately Grey Lady. Brought up in dirt-poor Gibsland, Louisiana., he worked his way from being an intern at the tiny Shreveport Times to eventually, by age 25, a graphics editor at the New York Times and a columnist soon thereafter. But this memoir isn’t about his professional development as much as the psychosexual and emotional roller-coaster ride of his upbringing. Especially in the first half, Blow masterfully evokes the sights, sounds and smells of rough-and-tumble, backwater Louisiana. His portrait of his tough-as-nails mother—who raised five children on the wages from her poultry-plucking job and, at one point, shot her husband for cheating—is almost larger than life. But eventually we get to the crux of the memoir and the event in his young life that would understandably have serious psychological repercussions for years to come: being sexually molested by his cousin. When Blow moves on to his more conventional university life at Grambling State, a historically black college in his home state, readers begin to lose a sense of what made the memoir so original and compelling up to that point. The author still found himself in a struggle for both personal and sexual identity in college, but his experiences with hazing as a confused fraternity pledge, as trying and traumatic as they certainly were, don’t seem that far removed from the coming-of-age experiences of millions of other working-class university students.
A well-written, often poetic memoir that nevertheless fails to fully live up to its initial promise.