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A loving and often hilarious recollection of the author’s family and other denizens of East Texas’s Big Thicket region. Certain writers—Joseph Mitchell, Armistead Maupin, and Eudora Welty, to name just a few—have absorbed the essence of the region they write about so thoroughly that the settings themselves, as described by those authors, are just as crucial to a reader’s enjoyment as the plots and characters they surround. Swift (Mother of Pearl, 1990, etc.) has the good fortune to have grown up in a region whose very name—the Big Thicket—promises a rollicking tale or two, and he doesn—t disappoint. Now a national biological preserve, this area of East Texas was still wild enough during the author’s youth in the 1940s and ’50s that the eccentricity of its inhabitants was derived as much from their environment as their personalities. The author freely admits that “not only did [his family and friends from that time] live their lives as if they were characters springing from the pages of a book, they were front porch storytellers of the highest order.” Swift has inherited this storytelling gene, and the material that his family has provided is so bizarre that it frequently straddles the line between memoir and tall tale—the title episode, which involves an unusual pickling, being a case in point. Happily, the author manages to avoid the sentimentality of some other recent memoirs; though he shows great affection for his childhood friends and family, he harbors no illusions about them. Especially resonant are Swift’s portraits of the women of his family, particularly his mother, who was widowed in WWII and became the anchor of his extended family. He provides a funny, mournful depiction of her as a woman who “was about transcending sadness with laughter.” The mythic South at its most entertaining. (39 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8203-2100-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999