CITY LIMITS by Terry Teachout


Memories of a Small-Town Boy
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 Curiously unresolved musings about the path that led Teachout (ed., Beyond the Boom, 1990) from small-town America to New York City. Early on, Teachout promises to explore the larger paradox of willful displacement (``I am like a million other Americans...We cannot go back; we are not at home where we are'') in the course of tracing his journey from the ``narrow and kind and decent and good'' southeastern Missouri town of Sikeston. The problem is, he doesn't. Instead, he offers an unremarkable account of an unremarkable upbringing in an unremarkable town. Like many small- town (and country and city) boys, Teachout participates in local theatricals, goes to family gatherings, strives to conquer childhood awkwardness, forms a band with high-school friends. Potentially telling events--dropping out of and back into college; impulsively deciding to switch directions from psychology to big- city journalism--are treated as mere twists of fate (``Sooner or later, people like me usually end up in places like New York...''), with no larger analysis to transform the particular into the universal. The book springs briefly to life in three essaylike chapters paradoxically set in neither Sikeston nor New York--two profiles of jazz musicians (famed big-band leader Woody Herman and a brilliant, obscure Kansas City pianist) and a nicely formed meditation on the author's brief descent into racism during an unhappy stint as a Kansas City bank teller (`` my misery grew...I needed somebody to hate'')--but it fails as autobiography. Teachout's loving evocation of the charms of small-town life should strike some chords among the many Americans wrestling with similar feelings of dislocation. He raises some interesting, heartfelt questions; it's a shame he doesn't answer any of them.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-68351-9
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991


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