James Conaway knew there was something wrong with his father before he let himself think too deeply about it.The signs were there, in unfocused phone calls and cryptic letters. Then on a reporting trip to his hometown Conaway had to face facts: his father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a dreaded illness that inspired this beautifully written memoir of family and the South. As memory left his father, the author was moved to recreate the world they had shared, memory being the bulwark against oblivion.
Many of these fragments are outrageously funny. The book takes us back to a society where the rules of southern gentlemanliness were still in effect, if barely. Propriety had always fought a dubious battle with bourbon, and now was being defeated by the likes of Elvis Presley and Jack Kerouc. With rueful wit Conaway artfully renders a youth of hunting and fishing giving way to brawling, debutante parties, and literary exploration. The story’s told against a wistful background of an older generation with belated appreciation for its hopes, ideals and diminished postwar reality.
Conaway writes of the idiosyncrasies of family life with a keen yet tender sense of the absurd, particularly the sometimes loving, mysterious relationship with his father. Linking the generations is an antiquated but powerful code of conduct, recalled here with extraordinary vividness and humor.
Jim Lehrer in The Washington Post - “Profound... hilarious... honest and serious... proof that the gods look more favorably on some writers than they do on others... conaway moves through his family and life in Memphis in the ‘40s and ‘50s with the flow and grace of an impressionist painter.”
Tracy Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains, House) - “Exemplary... absorbing... sad and funny... It awakens our own memories, makes our own lives more available to us.”
Rick Bass (The Ninemile Wolves) “I’m crazy about this book, and implore the nation to read it... about the shuddering magnificence, the depthlessness, of the human heart.”
The author of Napa recalls growing up in Memphis in the 1940s and `50s.