Winner of the 2016 Thurber Prize
The riotous, tender story of a bookish Mississippi boy and his flawed, Bunyanesque father, told with the comic verve of David Sedaris and the deft satire of Mark Twain or Roy Blount, Jr.Read more...
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Winner of the 2016 Thurber Prize
The riotous, tender story of a bookish Mississippi boy and his flawed, Bunyanesque father, told with the comic verve of David Sedaris and the deft satire of Mark Twain or Roy Blount, Jr.
Harrison Scott Key was born in Memphis, but he grew up in Mississippi, among pious, Bible-reading women and men who either shot things or got women pregnant. At the center of his world was his larger-than-life father--a hunter, a fighter, a football coach, -a man better suited to living in a remote frontier wilderness of the nineteenth century than contemporary America, with all its progressive ideas, and paved roads, and lack of armed duels. He was a great man, and he taught me many things: How to fight, how to work, how to cheat, how to pray to Jesus about it, how to kill things with guns and knives and, if necessary, with hammers.-
Harrison, with his love of books and excessive interest in hugging, couldn't have been less like Pop, and when it became clear that he was not able to kill anything very well or otherwise make his father happy, he resolved to become everything his father was not: an actor, a Presbyterian, and a doctor of philosophy. But when it was time to settle down and start a family of his own, Harrison started to view his father in a new light, and realized--for better and for worse--how much of his old man he'd absorbed.
Sly, heartfelt, and tirelessly hilarious, The World's Largest Man is an unforgettable memoir--the story of a boy's struggle to reconcile himself with an impossibly outsized role model, a grown man's reckoning with the father it took him a lifetime to understand.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-06-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Humorist Key was born in Memphis, but when he was six, his father moved the family back to his native Mississippi—a state, according to Key, that's "too impoverished to afford punctuation, where some families save their whole lives for a semicolon." Ever the raconteur, Key fills this rollicking memoir with tales of growing up with a larger-than-life father and being raised in the country, where boys would learn to fish and hunt and farm. Key soon discovers that he'd rather be reading than hunting, though he's reluctant ever to speak with his father about his hobby; the men in his family shun all books except the Bible, which they read more out of fear and guilt than genuine interest. Eventually, after Key kills his first deer, he and his father come to détente about Key's reading, and the son spends his mornings in his deer stand reading Tolkien rather than picking off bucks. When Key heads off to college and then becomes a husband and a father, he realizes how much he's inherited his father's "redneck" ways, but he also recognizes that he can never love what his father loves, no matter how hard he's tried. Key's memoir concludes by narrating the struggles many men experience: sons never living up to their fathers' expectations, sons feeling that they've let down or hurt their fathers, a sometimes lengthy period of alienation, and the healing moments brought on by the father's new bond with his son's children. (May)
Larger than life
Not long after his family moved from Memphis to rural Mississippi, young Harrison Scott Key began to notice how out of step he was with his surroundings. Willing to rise at 4 a.m. to accompany his father and brother on hunting trips, he nevertheless preferred to read, or bake, or simply not shoot things. With The World’s Largest Man for a parent, though, those options often took a backseat to a day spent in camouflage with gun at the ready.
Key’s memoir is frequently hilarious. His storytelling pulls no punches: Pop was physically abusive, somewhat racist and entirely sexist, and while Key is different in many ways, some of his father’s worst behaviors are handed down and threaten his own marriage. Yet this material is all fodder for stories that balance wit and gut-punch delivery. When a Thanksgiving dinner is blown off course by Pop’s ruminations on breastfeeding, Key muses, “If I’d had a gun, I would’ve just started shooting everyone, to save the world from us.”
Like Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, The World’s Largest Man is about a willful Southern father, a wife trying to eke out a little sanity for the family and the kids who nevertheless bear the scars of such an upbringing. And as was true with Lawson, Key continues to look for the familiar in his adult life. When his creepy neighbors in Savannah, Georgia, burn trash in the yard and tear out all the landscaping with a truck, his annoyance is clearly tempered with some nostalgia.
Both laugh-out-loud funny and observant about the ways we become our parents while asserting ourselves, The World’s Largest Man is a wise delight.