192pp. | $16
Scott McClanahan is not fearful. He does not live in the shadow of death or shy away from the hazards of poverty. Sickness, mistakes, his origins, his past, his flawed memory — he does not yield to their threats. He takes them by the horns and gives them a bear hug. Crapalachia is a book that takes guts. It takes guts to have written it. It takes guts to read.
“The theme of this book is a sound. It goes like this: Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick tick.
It’s the sound you’re hearing now, and it’s one of the saddest sounds in the world.”
Scott McClanahan gets his unabashedness from his Grandma Ruby. She is a hypochondriac and part-time zealot who is constantly pushing people’s limits, especially when it comes to death and dying:
“She started bothering the doctor so much over the next couple of months that he finally agreed to take her breast off as a preventative measure. She told him there was a history of it in our family. She was lying.”
He gets his empathy and humor from his Uncle Nathan, whose physical limitations caused by his Cerebral Palsy combined with Grandma Ruby’s often overbearing nature prompt him to retreat into a world of soap operas and televised preachers, his silent hopes for salvation and romance.
In his own outspoken manner of West Virginian grace, McClanahan shares the disparity of his community: its collapsing mines and lice-ridden children. There is beauty in the absurdity he paints.
” ‘We’ll now release a dove which is a symbolic representation of Ruby’s soul flying home to heaven.’ and so they opened up the bird box and nothing happened.
And then this sleepy-looking dove just crawled out, except it didn’t even look like a dove really but just a fat pigeon that somebody had painted white.
It had a look on its face like what the fuck? Seriously, people. What the fuck? It’s way too cold to be doing this today.
So the Wallace and Wallace guy tried to shoo but it wouldn’t shoo.
So the preacher repeated: ‘We’ll now release the dove.’
The Wallace and Wallace guy shooed it again. Finally the dove shot high up into the air and out and over our heads, but instead of flying away it just landed on top of this chain-linked fence. And so the Wallace and Wallace guy tried shooing it again and everyone giggled and gathered around in a circle throwing up their arms and shouting, ‘shoo-shoo’ at the bird high above. I shouted ‘Shoo.’ We were all shooing.
But it wouldn’t shoo.
And so it was.”
In its pages we witness love between a nurse and her patient alongside failed suicides. We share family dinners of homemade chicken and gravy and are even gifted the recipe.
In the spirit of the book, it feels important to offer up my own biases. You should know that on July 17th, 2012 McClanahan came to read in Atlanta. He shared with us some excerpts of Crapalachia and some portions of his Collected Works. Afterward, he was signing copies and talking to our group when a despondent woman — underweight and shaking — approached. She explained that she was pregnant and her husband beat her and could any of us just listen for a minute? McClanahan did. He wrapped up the inscription of my book and hugged her. He gave her the better portion of the money from his book sales. I felt shame for my own callous instincts, my silent prayers for distance.
Opening up my copy now you’ll find his dedication, “Laura. This is real. Let it happen.”
Nothing truer could be said of Crapalachia. It seems suited that the author said so himself.
Laura Straub is a writer and the Co-Editor and Atlanta Vicireine of Vouched Books. Her reviews can be read at Vouchedbooks.com, Creative Loafing, PASTE Magazine, Purge, NOÖ and others.