A journalist’s memoir of how he escaped the Christian fundamentalism that shaped, and distorted, both his and his parents’ lives.
Manning (Rewilding the West: Restoration in a Prairie Landscape, 2009, etc.) grew up on a farm in Michigan, the son of a working-class man with “a work ethic so deeply ingrained, it was not an ethic any more than breathing was.” His Christian fundamentalist mother “saved” his father, and the pair attempted to raise their children as Baptists. But as a teenager, Manning’s faith quickly “dissolved under logic.” A scholarship to the University of Michigan freed him from his parents’ fundamentalism. Ravenous for knowledge and “the sweep of big ideas,” Manning studied political science and philosophy. Yet it was folk music that made him realize that what the common person had to say was perhaps even more important. Mesmerized by the populism of Bob Dylan, Manning pursued journalism, which he took up after he left Michigan without a degree. He started by covering “cops and courts” for the Alpena News in Michigan, then moved on to the Post Register in Idaho, where he began covering political news. A corporate buyout impelled Manning to seek work at the Missoulian in Montana, where he wrote a series of articles condemning the logging industry that caused him to lose his job. In the meantime, the fundamentalist parents with whom he had little contact slowly receded into “an increasingly eccentric world of their own.” His terminally ill mother put her fate in God’s hands and died a horrific death while his father became a lunatic vagabond whom Manning tracked to the jungles of Panama. The story is as compelling as the parallels the author draws between it and the rise of Christian fundamentalism and right-wing politics in America. However, Manning also tends to intellectualize and shies away from probing the interpersonal dynamics of his family too deeply.
Intriguing, but at times dry and not entirely satisfying.