Tales from a one-time Southern Baptist.
Cain’s memoir begins with promise in a gripping prologue. The reader meets the author in the midst of his young son’s desperate hospital experience, as the boy clings to life and the parents cling to sanity. The author hoped to receive some assistance from his parents, aging Tennessee Baptists a world apart from their New York City son, but his request was met only with excuses and an eventual brief and uncomfortable visit. Readers begin to understand that whatever has passed in the intervening years, Cain and his parents are no longer family except in name. Apparently drawn to his memories through the trauma of his son’s illness, the author recounts various episodes from his boyhood and adolescence in Chattanooga. The book proves to be a page-turner, but Cain disappoints in two key ways. First, his vignettes are meant to pique the reader’s interest in Southern Baptist culture, but little of what is shared is particularly unique. Second, where the author does introduce meaty subject matter, he fails to deliver with introspection or analysis. For instance, in one scene Cain recounts being trapped in a car during a race riot, but aside from sharing the memory and the realization that race problems would not go away, he leaves the reader wanting more. As Cain prepared to enter college, he was obviously happy to be leaving, even fleeing, the culture of his youth. However, his transition from overly pious Evangelical teen to James Joyce–quoting, humanist college freshman is abrupt and unexamined. Though laced with interesting characters and descriptive writing, Cain’s memoir could have delivered so much more.
Pleasantries and pathos, but not a lot of point.