There are two types of writers, I’ve decided: those who can make their own lives appear as interesting and entertaining as their own writing and those who can’t. I’m starting to recognize that those writers who can write well about their own lives tend to be the ones whose books I really enjoy.
How general is that?
It comes down to voice, the ability convey a natural sense of humor, and for me self-deprecation goes a long way in understanding not only where a person comes from but how they deal with the world. Crutcher’s “ill-advised” autobiography gives an unvarnished view of growing up in small town Idaho and a wide-open window into the sources of his published stories.
Stephen King, when asked how much of his short story “The Body” was based in fact, explained that it’s the writer’s nature to start with the facts but when approaching a junction says to themselves Well, I know it happened like this, but wouldn’t it be great if this happened instead? Crutcher understands the power of this what if but he couldn’t get to that junction if he didn’t have such rich material to work with in the first place.
I can’t deny that there’s a certain Vonnegutian element to his storytelling, a palpable sense of the absurd, the ugly rear-view assessment sprinkled with a large dose of gallows humor that gives it appeal. He embraces his inner bawlbaby self and is willing to stand there naked for the world to laugh. He reveals the boy with anger management issues who learned enough to become a therapist dealing with men who hold their anger dear. He shares the truth of an alcoholic mother who used her son as her therapist and a strong-mannered father who came to nickname his son Lever because it’s the simplest tool in nature. He fails miserably in sports, in outdoor survival, repeatedly he succumbs to his older brother’s manipulative cruelties. Chris Crutcher, poster boy for Wussy Boys the world over.
There are those who will disapprove Crutcher’s message or the way he delivers that message — much like the Christians who assume his inclusion of religion in his books makes him one of them, only to find him flatly denying them in person — but there are probably a good number of misfit outcasts who would benefit from seeing a bit of themselves in a successful adult.
It also makes me want to hunt down his books and read the stories he adapted from his life. I’m sure his publishers are happy to hear that.