Stories That Are Mostly True
by Tony Earley
This book is a collection of personal essays, though Earley isn’t entirely comfortable with that description. Personal, these days, often means a “predisposition toward narcissism” and that really isn’t an attractive idea to a good writer. Also, what he wrote here doesn’t follow the definition of essay he learned in school.
And for these things I want to say, Thank God.
I’m grateful for Earley’s collection of mostly true stories. I’m grateful he’s willing to look at how he grew up, at the people and places he came from, and talk about them in a way that makes me recognize them, even though I’ve never set foot in rural North Carolina. (Though I, too, have family members that say peaked.)
The power of recognition that Earley inspires is surprising. The stories he tells are so grounded in particulars (is there another way to talk about shooting a cat?) they cause something to fire off in my own brain, a kinship based on the insistent truth of family stories.
Earley writes about his family in a way that isn’t showy, that isn’t looking to capitalize on some kind of otherness. He talks about pain without being stoic and manly, and also without wallowing and melodrama. He’s just a guy, doing the best he can. He sees Ann B. Davis — Alice, from The Brady Bunch — and wants her to talk to him like she’s Alice and he’s one of the kids. He knows that “stories in real life rarely end the way we want them to. They simply end.” He’s quiet, he’s an observer, he’s a writer, and he’s giving us a peek inside his head.
He’s a guy with a talent for clean, honest prose. No tricks, none of that fancy meta-consciousness crap, no games. His style here will be familiar to readers of his novel Jim the Boy — spare and unaffected. What he offers are just human stories worth listening to, because they are worth telling. Highly recommended.