Elks (Journeys Along the Quiet Path, 2002) recounts her childhood in the Pamlico Sound region of North Carolina in this memoir.
The author writes that she likes to say she was named for 1960's Hurricane Donna, although that isn’t exactly true; when it comes to personal and family lore, she admits, she often opts for the most interesting version of a story. Born the middle child of teenage parents, Elks grew up in eastern North Carolina in the 1970s. She recounts memorable incidents of her early childhood (making mud pies, tormenting her siblings) and the strong personalities in her immediate and extended family. Everything seemed like an adventure, she writes—even her family’s house burning down in an accidental fire. As Elks grew, however, she says that she began to learn about the darker side of life, such as her carpenter father’s slow descent into alcoholism: “I know, I know...alcoholism is a disease,” Elks told her sister Wendy. “But isn’t it time he got the doctor to help him get better?” The author had to find a way to reconcile her positive, “magical” way of looking at the world with the multiplying disappointments that came with growing up. Elks writes in a colorful, conversational prose that showcases the grit and charm of the book’s rural Southern setting. For example, here’s her description of her grandmother's cooking collard greens: “They took many hours of preparation and tending to, so she made a big batch when she made any at all. She had gotten used to cooking for nine head of young’uns, so I guess old habits die hard.” The book feels a bit bloated at nearly 400 pages, particularly as many short chapters are simply episodic (and underwhelming) vignettes. The relationships between Elks and the various members of her family are well-drawn, however, and the deep affection that she feels for both the setting and the characters can be infectious at times. There are many, many memoirs about the toll that addiction takes on families, but Elks’ spunk and optimism help this one stand slightly above the crowd.
An animated, if overlong, memoir of growing up in the South.