Ten homespun personal essays—most published elsewhere—from the author of last year’s acclaimed novel Jim the Boy.
Earley grew up in a small-town, kudzu-covered corner of North Carolina more recognizable as the terrain of Thomas Wolfe than that of Dorothy Allison. Seven of these pieces explore his early years there, as a 1960s television acolyte, a squirrel-hunting dilettante, and, through it all, an astute, heartbreaking observer of the idiosyncratic people around him. The title story, which appeared in Harper’s, serves as an introduction to this American boyhood, wholly transformed by a color, Zenith television set, replete with rooftop antenna. As the cornerstone entry here, a masterful exercise in metaphor, it’s hard to imagine what more the author could have to articulate about his young life. But Earley thankfully only has more trenchant memories to spin. With “Hallway,” in an equally unadorned language, but with more deeply felt remembrances, Earley recalls, with a child’s perception, his extended family’s peculiarities and his own fearful awe of his grandfather. A look at the odd Scots-derived Appalachian dialect of his youth (“The Quare Gene”) leads to a reflection on the “shared history” that the author is losing with his highland ancestors. A similar wistfulness pervades “Granny’s Bridge,” a tribute to a time when crossing a bridge—and certainly not one to the 21st century—could enhance a person’s outlook. In “Ghost Stories,” Earley takes his wife to New Orleans to investigate the haunted city: “We are looking for ghosts, but, I think, a good story will do.” And the final piece (“Tour de Fax”), another gem from Harper’s, follows him on a record-setting circumnavigational flight, recorded stop by stop in under 32 hours. Earley’s skewering of the trip’s corporate sponsors is good fun, and his capstone epiphany—that where he ended up, at home, is the only place he’d fly around the world to get to—rings true.
Poetic, inspiring proof that you can go home again.