At its heart this memoir is the story of a young boy growing up with an abusive father. There are some particularities to this story that add context, plot, focus, and some pretty harrowing moments, but that central idea never fades from this story.
David Crow’s father was a former prisoner at San Quentin, whose crimes and legends are murky both for David in the memoir and for us as readers. His father seems to be constantly running his mouth, inflicting damage on his family, and telling stories whose truth can never be discerned. In some scenes, David’s is being roped into gaslighting his mother, whose struggles with mental illness are weaponized by his father to destroy her, to abandon her, and ultimately it seems to avoid paying any kind of child support to her. Certainly don’t mistake this for his father loving his kids and wanting to protect them; instead, it’s about power and control. As a result, David struggles to find any kind of stable sense of self and place in the world. This is exacerbated by the fact that he’s growing up on the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance Arizona, in spite of his father’s claims that they are Cherokee by birth. So he experiences the deeply unsettling pain of an abusive father actively trying to destroy his mother, the instability of his education in racist reservation schools in the 1950s, and a later discovered dyslexia.
As he grows up, more becomes clear about his life but I won’t get into that here. I will mention that there’s a constant flow of abuse and injustice in this memoir that never really stops until David Crow is away and on his own in meaningful ways.