Prolific writer Stephen Graham Jones‘ latest novel, Growing Up Dead in Texas arrived in my mailbox about two months ago. I made a promise to review the book, a promise I am fulfilling a little late it seems. I promised to read the book before I read anything else, even if that meant putting down my current book for a while. When the package came in the mail, I ripped it open and started it immediately. A slow reader by nature, I really tried to pay close attention to the details so I would be able to write my review. I wanted to find the heart of the book and open it up, see what made it tick. That’s really all I ever do when I write a review. I find the details and hold on to them, turn them around in my head to see how it all fits into the story.
I failed with this novel. The details? Hahaha. Yeah, right. The details took my ass for a ride, a glorious ride through West Texas. I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I started to wonder how I was going to write a review without writing GREAT, BRILLIANT, AWESOME, JAW-DROPPING, GREAT, BRILLIANT, AWESOME, etc. over and over again, sounding like some spastic geek stuck in compliment repeater mode.
Set in Texas, I figured as a Texan I would feel right at home reading it. Funny thing is, I’ve never been west of Waco, and Texas is big, huge. Massive. From where I live in Texas, I could drive east for ten hours and cross four states. Drive west for ten hours–yep, you guessed it–still in Texas. My Texas is about as different from Stephen’s Texas as you can get, yet everything felt familiar. This book captures a feeling, and man, that’s hard to do with a whole novel. The feeling should be familiar to anyone who picks up the book, whether they live in Texas, or the South, or where ever.
It’s the feeling of life. A life that we’ve all lived, a life that all of our children will live. If you ever played basketball in school, thought Evel Knievel was the real deal, pushed Hot Wheels around the floor in your house, listened to old Country & Western tunes in your truck, had a truck, or even if none of this even remotely reminds you of you, Growing Up Dead in Texas will still resonate with that indescribable tickle in the back of your brain that maybe, yes maybe, you’ve been here before.
There’s a good reason why I haven’t written this review until now. I was afraid to write it. I figured that no matter what I said wouldn’t be able give this book justice. Touted as a mystery and a memoir, this is about as close to Stephen Graham Jones as you’re going to get. Writer’s basically write themselves into their stories; it’s unavoidable and comes with the territory. Stephen leads the reader down the path of memory into the heart of this story, the fire of this story, and it’s a story only he could tell.
The thing about this book is that I don’t know what really happened and what is made up, and personally, I don’t care. I believe it all, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Stephen was compelled to write this story and share it. You can feel the passion welling up in the words, in Stephen’s voice, as he weaves this tale as only he can.
I knew there was no way I could do the book justice. After all these words I still don’t think I’ve written a review. All I can hope for is that you pick up this book and experience it like I did. Maybe then and only then you will understand.