A brush with death causes southern novelist McLaurin (Woodrow's Trumpet, 1989; The Acorn Plan, 1988) to reflect, with unflinching honesty and seductive, unsentimental passion, on what his North Carolina heritage has meant to him. Forget those treasured images of mint juleps and magnolia blossoms. McLaurin's Cape Fear River Valley in rural North Carolina is a land where young boys take part in breech-birthing hogs, dance excitedly around dead-drunk daddies passed out in their own vomit, refuse to eat food touched by black hands--and end up in jail, church, the military, or, most likely, dead by age 35. Raised in a two-bedroom farmhouse with four brothers, a sister, a dad who worked in a bakery and tried to raise a little money off the land, and without an indoor bathroom, McLaurin met a different fate for no better reason, he claims, than an inexplicable need to challenge himself with the unfamiliar. While his younger brothers seemed content to accept the working-class lives that awaited them, McLaurin escaped by becoming a basketball hero in high school, a Marine after graduation, a collector of poisonous snakes while working as a Pepsi salesman, and a Peace Corps volunteer after he married his second, upper-middle-class wife. Still, McLaurin remained much more a part of the rural South than apart from it, as he realized at age 36 when he was diagnosed with cancer and his family gathered around to donate the bone marrow that would save him and to offer commiseration and comfort. His gratitude is mirrored here in these unsanitized recollections of the schoolhouse cruelties, bloody cockfights, drunken brawls, gruesome deaths and suicides, and moments of beauty that make up the life he nearly lost. A powerful work--and a welcome record of a rapidly fading way of life.