Book Review: The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key
Even the most reluctant memoir-readers will enjoy these tales from an even more reluctant southerner. His witty, but often uncomfortably honest portrayals of his family life and upbringing in Tennessee and Mississippi are sure to make you guffaw in public.
The World’s Largest Man is a collection of vignettes and stories centered around the author’s father, Pop, a larger-than-life last-of-the-true Southern-men sort of character. Pop is the kind of old-school country boy who insists making his sons into “real men” through hard work, hunting, playing football, and hates the fancy neckerchiefs forced on boy scouts. There are hilarious anecdotes of running naked through the forest on hunting trips, pretend farming, potty-training children, and reading on the sly. But beyond the funnies, there are the author’s more serious reflections on life in the rural south, how we can grow beyond our upbringing without abandoning our roots, how parents are just people doing their best, and how hard it is to see ourselves and loved ones clearly and compassionately.
This book is irreverent, funny and touching. The writing is skillful and snarky without being fussy or overworked. The dialogue will have you laughing out loud, and if you’re anything like me, before it’s all over, you’ll be wiping away tears, too, crying for a man you almost hated, but learned to love before it was all over. Unlike in so many memoirs, by the end of the book, it’s clear that the author has learned something and changed for the better.
Some descriptions will verge on disgusting for folks who love animals, and aren’t comfortable with hunting and killing them (myself included)— which is exactly how the author must have felt at the time. Also, some of the attitudes about southerners, race and women portrayed are likely to have people up in arms. That said, one of the most interesting underlying themes of these stories is how the author’s and his family’s underlying prejudices affect their lives and relationships.
Some Favorite Quotes:
I do believe in the power of Jesus and rifles, but to keep things interesting, I also believe in the power of NPR and the scientific method.
For some of us, the never-ending rural ennui led to destructive habits with literature. And so I took books everywhere, to places where reading was discouraged such as church, and school, and I often found myself in the principal’s office having to explain my fascination with knowledge
I blame my mother, who introduced me to the perverse habit of reading through the gateway drug of encyclopedias …
“Did you like it?” I said. “The book?”
‘”t wasn’t one of them kind you read’”he said
“It was longer, you mean?’”I said. “Like history?’”
“No,’”he said. “I mean maybe it was a TV show.”
I didn’t like having children any more than I liked having cartilage. A blessing? Sure. But so is cartilage. One helps me ride my bicycle, the other one poops on my floor.
I’d left in the dark, had stared at a cup of coffee and tried to get it to tell me secrets about what to write about that day, and I stared and stared and maybe wrote a line and loved it, then erased it…
Stop burning your garbage. This is not a Cormac McCarthy novel!
Growing up, my family were not so much Gun Nuts, as Nuts with Guns.
“There’s more redneck in me than meets the eye.”
I grew up believing men could not do housework, that if you did, something bad might happen. One might grow an ovary.
I had inherited my father’s sham dichotomy: men over here, women over there. And maybe that worked in olden times, or maybe not. Maybe that’s not history. Maybe that’s just a bad idea, a story someone told. Maybe everything I knew about women was wrong.
Co-editor at Readlearnwrite.com, Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer, editor and translator. She’s an unabashed bookworm and coffee addict. In her free time, Chris travels, paints, and plays with kitchen tools.