I went back and looked at when this was originally published, which was 1978. I was wondering about this because of one, how this situates within Harry Crews’s writing career and two, how it situates within the broader publishing world of a certain kind of Southern US literature. The memoir is harrowing and amazing. It’s called “Biography of a Place” because so much of the memoir is not about Crews at all, and most is not told from memories, but of memories of being told. We begin with Crews’s father. At the time of this book coming out, Crews has already outlived his father by about a decade. Crews was pretty hard-living himself, but his father died from probably a combination of drinking, fatigue, stress, attrition, and possibly from a heart defect/condition. He was 33. Crews talks about his father having a kind of death-drive built into him that led him not only to these specific forms of hard-living, but also a penchant for fighting that almost got him killed a few times, and may well have gotten others killed. Crews discusses how sadness and tragedy and loss in the South (and he’s in Florida and Georgia in this book) is not so much that there’s more (but I don’t think he’s right about that) but that it often leads to more of it once something happens. His father embodies this.
In addition to the stories of his home county (imagine a place called Bacon Co, Georgia in the 1920s and 1930s): Crews talks about his own run-ins with injury and illness. Some of these include biting a piece of lye and falling into a vat of boiling pig fat, and all such descriptions should be understood through a sense of artistic license and hyperbole. They were certainly bad things, but couldn’t have been as bad as Crews describes them or else he would have died. Instead, they’re told through the sense of how they felt to him as a child and how the adults around him reacted to them.
Lastly, this book has a lot of animals. You’re going to learn a lot about mules in this book (again, no clue if any of it is accurate) and you’re going to see some animals die, so be forewarned.