Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place by Scott McClanahan

The author of Stories and its followups, Stories II and Stories V!, shares a memoir of Appalachian boyhood filled with the requisite hardships but ultimately redemptive.


Scott McClanahan centers Crapalachia on two characters of his West Virginia youth who rule over much of the narrative–his Grandma Ruby, an ornery, fantastical mother of 13 (or so) children who also photographed dead people, and his uncle Nathan, who had cerebral palsy and enjoyed listening to the radio preacher and having six-packs of beer poured down his feeding tube. We also meet his schoolboy friends, like Little Bill, an eventual roommate with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a destructive crush on a girl down the street.

Crapalachia is an unusual story told in an unusual fashion, peppered with second-person references, advice to the reader on how to live, how to remember and forget. The attentive reader will also appreciate McClanahan’s “Appendix and Notes” for its revelation of where he’s twisted the truth (as he remembers it) to suit the story he wanted to tell. Like many memoirists, McClanahan is concerned with the nature of memory, its credibility and value. He sometimes gets mired in the unpleasant, cringeworthy details of life, then pans out for grand, loving, hopeful statements. This is a gritty look at life–in Appalachia, yes, but also in a universal sense. Historical detail turns what looked to be a memoir of childhood into the subtitle’s promised “biography of a place.” In the end, despite various tragedies, this poetic, rambling series of remembrances is surprisingly optimistic.

This review originally ran in the March 26, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 6 gallstones.

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