Monday, September 22, 2014
Review: 'Fire Shut Up in My Bones'
By Charles Blow
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The youngest of five boys in an extended family where one was rarely alone, where great effort was put into using the gifts of the land to feed everyone, where men and women rarely stayed married to each other but had bonds that didn't break, and where dignity and respect shone, Charles Blow remembers those days of his boyhood and young adulthood and brings them vividly to life in his memoir.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones recounts Blow's journey from a hardscrabble family held together by strong-willed women to the beginning of his career as a respected New York Times commentator. His story from child to man has some foundational points that show why he is respected today.
Poverty is there, but it is a story of how family members individually and working together did the best they could and, in some cases, surmounted it. His mother is an inspiration in showing that she didn't give up, not even with a brood of children and an absent husband. She made it back to school and became a teacher and an educational leader. And didn't give up on her children.
Her drive and determination are not sugar-coated, but told simply. So are the tales of how the family was fed, whether through growing their food or taking advantage of a highway wreck involving a load of cattle, much in the way cargo from shipwrecks is saved by coastal dwellers. They all must deal with Jim Crow racism as well, which is strongly interwoven into the generational poverty.
Another foundational point is Blow's search for knowing himself, including his sexuality. He was abused as a child and it both scared him and scarred him. As with many abuse victims, he thought he had done something wrong, especially as the abuser was someone he initially admired. Part of his recovery process includes a search through his spirituality, told in plain, heart-searching fashion.
Blow does his readers the service of not glossing over any of his own missteps, including things he did that he is not proud of as a fraternity leader during his college days. The harm done in hazing to both abuser and victim is not connected with his physical abuse, but the way he has to work through both hazing and sexual abuse demonstrates that if a person continues to question, they can find answers.
This memoir is a stirring account of how one child became a man, carrying on the respect he learned from his strong family members while seeing ways he could leave the hurtful acts behind.
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