Atlanta sculptor and former social worker Haugen recreates his nomadic childhood through precise detail and lyrical prose.
Haugen’s memoir recounts growing up with his brother, Lawrence, in Minnesota in the 1930s through the ’50s. Reared by parents they both feared and adored, the two brothers had an impoverished, harrowingly graphic childhood. The author’s frank prose chronicles raw experiences like his unfaithful mother having affairs (“rubbing bellies”) in the car with her many boyfriends while Haugen remained in the front seat. All of this happened while he was steeped in a Catholic faith that his mother, somewhat hypocritically, hoped would teach him to be righteous and honorable and lead to eventual priesthood. Fond memories of his aunt and uncle color the memoir, along with his youthful shenanigans and anecdotes of a short-lived education in Catholic school as an unproductive student. The family frequently moved, often to bucolic farms, in order to live inexpensively. Everyday life—getting teased for wearing thick glasses, French kissing new girls, etc.—was continually interrupted by his parents’ separation and his mother’s abandonment, which led to moves to raggedy farmlands like the Thompsons' hellish property and subsequent years of “concentrating hard on keeping my sanity.” While Haugen’s life has obviously not been easy, and his account illustrates an often sad, damaged coming of age, his memoir seems to serve as a catharsis. The author’s record of his early experiences shows how the scars borne from a hardscrabble childhood remain but can, with time, fade.
An affecting journal-like account of a joyful yet painful childhood.