A Review of Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia: A Biography of Place


It’s a story full of death and dying, living and life, tits and ass and balls and dicks and pussy. It’s an old, old, old story that always begins—they begat and they begat and they begat.


It is every story; or, in the case of Crapalachia, Scott McClanahan’s latest, it is the story of family, of upbringing and of adolescence; of fleeting moments of glory and mostly it’s the story of everything that can happen whether you want it to or not. Shit happens. Nothing stands still. We age. We grow old. It is reminder of the sound time makes as it leaves us:

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 is at the peak of his wordsmith powers. With every sentence penned, he is recording a side of history that would otherwise go unaddressed. Scott speaks of the many faces of family while fearlessly pointing out the darker lines around the eyes we often disregard as a bad day, a bad decision, with catch-all excuses and idle sympathies.

Crapalachia is a condensed family history made up of anecdotes, evidence from family albums, gossip, and everything that, put together, takes on new meaning. For, you see, Crapalachia is its own sort of textbook. In each of its tales, it provides examples and lessons via scenarios gone awry.

Entry from the textbook of Crapalachia:

A grandmother dead set on having cancer gets everyone to believe that she has cancer. A grandmother that enjoys the attention. A grandmother that already bought and placed her tombstone, visits it regularly complete with a bouquet of flowers.

McClanahan views happenstance with uniquely tragic sort of eye, the focus being on who committed suicide, who got their toes cut off by a lawnmower, rather than who survived and who has all of their toes. It might be melodramatic, a glass-half full kind of mentality but you aren’t seeing the point: It’s the narrative material we all fixate upon. No one would watch a reality TV show where all we see is one perfectly happy Pleasantville. Fuck that.

McClanahan frequently provides enjoyable and perfectly cued asides where he reminds us who the narrator is and has always been—himself. He stops the story,

adds commentary, and reminds us that there is plenty of humor to be found in any story, tragic and/or true.
Tick tick tick. It’s the sound of time, the sound of life, the sound of death, the SOUND.
It is the sound of this book, breathing like a lung, beating like a heart, for you.

Someone give Scott a piece of history and he’ll cut it down to size. It might not be the right fit for the history books, but he’ll find something personal and beautiful. He’ll turn anything into a true testament of humanity and survival.

One more entry from the textbook of Crapalachia:

The taxi cab driver said, ‘I know. That’s me. I was the governor of the state of West Virginia.’ He was an old man. He was a drunk. He tried to protect and help the people once. This is what happens to you. You wind up a drunk, driving a taxi cab in the city of Chicago.

This book is evidence of the fact that McClanahan would live through the treacherously bad times and still manage to bring that big grin around and wide. He’ll say “CURE FOR DEPRESSION” and he’ll show you what’s up. How to do it. How to keep from letting a bummer bring you down.

I don’t waste any time trying to discern between which parts of Crapalachia are true or not; set together as a singular entity, family history as Crapalachia, it is all true, and every single word of it must be read.

Fiction. Nonfiction. It doesn’t matter. We live through it.

We live through all of it.

Crapalachia: A Biography of Place, by Scott McClanahan. Columbus, Ohio: Two Dollar Radio, forthcoming, 2013. 192 pages. $16.00, paper.

Michael J Seidlinger is the author of My Pet Serial Killer (Enigmatic Ink, 2013)The Sky Conducting (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2012), In Great Company (Enigmatic Ink, 2011), and The Day We Delay (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2011). He enjoys good company, good conversation, good food, good drink, good wisdom, good books, good films, good fights, good videogames, and plenty of really bad, bad decisions. Looking for a good time? Contact him at your earliest convenience. Disclaimer: Michael J Seidlinger cannot guarantee that you’ll have a “good time.”

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