At first glance, this book comes across as your average, happy-memories, reminiscent memoir, with friends, drink, girls, cars and all the usual fare – and, that it most definitely is. However, as you read on, and indeed between the lines, you realize there is more to it, and more to its author – perhaps even he is unaware of it. Your admiration only grows for T.J., his general attitude and his strength of character. Sure, his life was ordinary, but his childhood was far from what one would ordinarily call a happy one, moving from one school to another – sometimes several in a term – and struggling against harmful external factors beyond his control. His tale is the classic one of a good kid who never stood a chance against the damage inflicted on him by the decisions of others less considerate. Don’t get it wrong, though – T.J. doesn’t wallow in this; far from it: he is cheerful and optimistic. It is a wonder he managed to function at all as a child, let alone make good, lifelong friends. When T.J. says in this book “I did the very best I could with what You gave me to work with” he is not kidding. Because, despite all of the profound obstacles to his progress and motivation he continued to simply keep his head down, keep his spirits up, work hard and put to shame those around him who should have known better. You pity, respect and admire T.J. all at once.
The book, perhaps not surprisingly, is not written to the highest quality of language, but it certainly has a dialect. The short, briefly punctuated sentences can be a touch frustrating at times, and the book’s timeline is not linear; it is told in a series of individual contextual episodes, or anecdotes, which overlap and intersect at times; for example, he will talk about having a baby in one story, then meet the mother and get her pregnant in a later one. This is okay though, once you realize it is the format, and a little refreshing, too, because it all adds to the book’s jovial feel.
T.J.’s life could have gone in a very different direction – like so many wretched others in small-town life – but you can see from reading that he is a man of principle, of strong resolve and with a good moral compass. He is a good example of how character can supersede all. He bemoans the reliance of young people now on technology, and of health and safety rules, and he has a right to: as a teenager he showed a level of maturity and independence you don’t often see – if out of pure necessity. This is a sad fact of T.J.’s life, but a fact, nonetheless. He uses his own lessons in life to provide snippets of good advice throughout, but there is no arrogance in it. You listen to his advice, because he is a good, experienced guide.
It ends on a really warm, affectionately
nostalgic note, which resonated with me – not least because I share T.J.’s
taste in ‘80s music and films: ACDC; Back to the Future; Rocky,
etc. There are also some nice bonus
appendices, for no other reason than because T.J. wants to share them, which is
a nice touch: pictures of old barns and a short afterword on his thoughts about
the “All-Seeing Eye” on the dollar bill.
I have to say that I pretty much enjoyed everything about this book, and
the 4 stars are not just because T.J. seems like a genuinely nice guy who
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In : Book Reviews
Tags: t-j-wray memoir america smalltown-life texas teenage autobiography