Growing up closeted, creative and overweight in the Ozarks is not as painful as one might imagine.
Rouse’s seriocomic debut memoir has several flaws, but lack of compassion is definitely not one of them, even though he had more than enough reason to grow up bitter. He came of age in the 1970s; his tiny southern Missouri hometown, Granby, was the kind of place where “trailers outnumber homes and teeth.” It was, of course, not the most welcoming place for a kid like Rouse, who liked to dress up in women’s clothes, had crushes on boys and acted generally “different” (Ozarks code for “gay”). But somehow the constant spurning and rejection that he experienced doesn’t translate here into anger. The first (and better) half of the memoir features Rouse’s self-mocking recollections of a childhood that seemed to whipsaw from giddy highs to, more commonly, crushing lows of destructive insecurity. Rouse proves his mettle further with a lovingly skewed portrait of his family. Mom is a highly dramatic nurse who constantly answers her own questions as if on the stand (“That is correct, sir!”), while routine-loving Dad calls everyone “honey” and leaves the Ozarks only once a year, to bring the family to see his beloved St. Louis Cardinals. The author lulls his readers with seductive evocations of stifling summers at the Rouse cabin: wet, buggy nights; chaotic family gatherings; bottle rockets being shot off on the Fourth of July. Reality comes crashing in about halfway through with a tragedy that shatters everything, and while Rouse expertly sketches his subsequent road to personal fulfillment, later sections suffer somewhat without the poeticism of his earlier pages.
An uneven but still evocative and honest look at one man’s long self-gestation.