Winner of the 2016 Thurber Prize
The riotous, tender story of a bookish Mississippi boy and his flawed, Bunyanesque father, told with the comic verve of David Sedaris and the deft satire of Mark Twain or Roy Blount, Jr.
Harrison Scott Key was born in Memphis, but he grew up in Mississippi, among pious, Bible-reading women and men who either shot things or got women pregnant. At the center of his world was his larger-than-life father—a hunter, a fighter, a football coach, “a man better suited to living in a remote frontier wilderness of the nineteenth century than contemporary America, with all its progressive ideas, and paved roads, and lack of armed duels. He was a great man, and he taught me many things: How to fight, how to work, how to cheat, how to pray to Jesus about it, how to kill things with guns and knives and, if necessary, with hammers.”
Harrison, with his love of books and excessive interest in hugging, couldn’t have been less like Pop, and when it became clear that he was not able to kill anything very well or otherwise make his father happy, he resolved to become everything his father was not: an actor, a Presbyterian, and a doctor of philosophy. But when it was time to settle down and start a family of his own, Harrison started to view his father in a new light, and realized—for better and for worse—how much of his old man he’d absorbed.
Sly, heartfelt, and tirelessly hilarious, The World’s Largest Man is an unforgettable memoir—the story of a boy’s struggle to reconcile himself with an impossibly outsized role model, a grown man’s reckoning with the father it took him a lifetime to understand.
Humorist Key was born in Memphis, but when he was six, his father moved the family back to his native Mississippi a state, according to Key, that's "too impoverished to afford punctuation, where some families save their whole lives for a semicolon." Ever the raconteur, Key fills this rollicking memoir with tales of growing up with a larger-than-life father and being raised in the country, where boys would learn to fish and hunt and farm. Key soon discovers that he'd rather be reading than hunting, though he's reluctant ever to speak with his father about his hobby; the men in his family shun all books except the Bible, which they read more out of fear and guilt than genuine interest. Eventually, after Key kills his first deer, he and his father come to d tente about Key's reading, and the son spends his mornings in his deer stand reading Tolkien rather than picking off bucks. When Key heads off to college and then becomes a husband and a father, he realizes how much he's inherited his father's "redneck" ways, but he also recognizes that he can never love what his father loves, no matter how hard he's tried. Key's memoir concludes by narrating the struggles many men experience: sons never living up to their fathers' expectations, sons feeling that they've let down or hurt their fathers, a sometimes lengthy period of alienation, and the healing moments brought on by the father's new bond with his son's children.