Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

Janisse Ray, Author Milkweed Editions $19.95 (285p) ISBN 978-1-57131-234-1
Ray, a poet and an environmental activist, takes a tough-minded look at life in rural southern Georgia in this blend of memoir and nature study. She presents detailed observations of her family members, most notably her grandfather Charlie, who was ""terrifying, prone to violent and unmerited punishment""; her father, whose decision to buy a tract of land near Highway 1 and turn it into what became a massive junkyard with a house in the middle set in motion the key events in Ray's life; and her mother, whose total devotion to her family was tested when her husband began a three-year bout with mental illness. Interspersed with these portraits are various chapters describing the beauty of the longleaf pine flatwoods and other natural treasures found, and often endangered, in her home state. Ray's writing is at its best when she recalls her most harrowing memories, such as when her father gave her and her two brothers a whipping after they stood by and watched a friend kill a turtle. These scenes resonate during the interpolated naturalist chapters, which evoke the calm of the landscape and give readers a respite from the anger and pain that drive much of the family narrative. In a final chapter (in which she includes appendixes on the specific endangered species of the South), Ray laments the ""daily erosion of unique folkways as our native ecosystems and all their inhabitants disappear."" What remains most memorable are the sections where Ray describes, and attempts to prevent, her own disconnection from the Georgia landscape. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1999
Release date: 11/01/1999
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