Little Boy Blues
Malcolm Jones grew up in the North Carolina/South Carolina borderlands. His father was long gone, his mother a long-suffering country school teacher, and he was an only child.
This long, moony and moody memoir is mostly about a needy boy, his needy mother, and his drunken father. There is a great deal about Jones' uncles and aunts and cousins and his mother's nervous breakdown that never seems to end and a father who appears and disappears like a friendly phantom and all the movies he saw with mum and all the visits they made over the border to the uncles and aunts and cousins and long LONG boring trips in the car and mum repeating "Why did he leave me?" "Why is he so irresponsible?" "What's wrong with me?"
He and his mother wander hither and yon from one apartment to another in boring Winston-Salem, N. C. Perhaps, he says, they are trying to go "thirty years or more back into the past, where there was no divorce, no drinking, no unhappiness."
I suppose we were both driven a little mad at the time, she because all her dreams of what life would be were finally, irrevocably dashed, me because I was an awkward lonely boy...
During all this the reader gets to go a little mad too, all shut up in this drab little apartment with this nervous little boy and his nervous mother and dad gone off there somewhere leaving nothing behind but a smile and his many bottles of Wild Turkey hidden under the sofa cushions and in the closet under the shoes.
After wading through all this misery my thought is that anyone who publishes a book by one of the writers for Time or U. S. News and World Report or Newsweek --- Jones does "culture" for the latter --- should be wary because these guys know how to spin out the words without surcease. It's called "fill" and Little Boy Blues is absolutely packed with it, enough, I think, to drive us all a little bananas.
There are some nice parts here and there: going to the movies with his cousin back when movies meant escape before there were movie-plexes, going as I did to drab little theatres like the Fairfax or the Roxy or the Palace (or the Garden) where you could fill up on popcorn and Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne and Cary Grant and June Allyson and Tom Mix ... a whole afternoon for a dime.
That, and evenings catching lightening bugs and "putting them in Mason jars with holes poked in the lid so the bugs could breathe (they died anyway)."
During the day we plucked Japanese beetles off the rosebushes and tied strings to their legs and let them fly about, like little kites with motors.
When Mum finally gives up and dies in the nursing home, all the orderlies and nurses come into her room, some of them weeping, all mourning because she had meant a great deal to them in the five years she was there. But Malcolm can't leave it (or her) alone, just can't leave her (or himself) alone: "I caught myself wondering, was this some kind of Hollywood ending, like the feel-good coda on a TV drama after the last commercial break?"
Had my mother's life ended, in other words, the way she would have written it, drenched in the sentiment of a sympathy card?--- Richard Saturday