A cultural critic for Newsweek recalls his Southern boyhood in a fractured family.
At times reminiscent of Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life (1989), Jones’s memoir describes an eccentric but loving mother, an alcoholic and passively abusive father and a peripatetic childhood. His late mother, a fifth-grade schoolteacher who spent her summers studying to update her teaching certificate, emerges as a strong woman bound by the procrustean mores of the South and by her conventional ideas about decorum, religion, family and status. Jones spends much of the book trying to understand her, a quest complicated by her Alzheimer’s, which isolated her even more in old age. Though mother and son had been very close in his boyhood, his adolescence lowered between them a transparent curtain of misunderstanding. Jones recalls, sometimes in astonishing detail, pivotal experiences of his early childhood. He relives his passion for marionettes, and abrupt abandonment of them when he lost an elementary-school talent contest to some lip-synchers; his love of the movies (he adored Lawrence of Arabia) and the family’s hand-crank Victrola; his despair about piano lessons (he loved the instrument, which his mother played well, but hated practicing); and his growing skepticism about religion. Jones confesses frustration about his father’s story. A charming but dissolute and laconic man who seems to have wandered out of a Tennessee Williams play, the elder Jones struggled with private demons that made it impossible for him to hold a job for long and resulted in continual abandonment and an eventual divorce that devastated the author’s mother. Jones ends with a lovely section about family photographs. Occasionally, the author tests readers’ credulity with long passages of verbatim dialogue from his preschool years.
Fragrant with wistfulness and poignant with regret.