cover image My Three Dads: Patriarchy on the Great Plains

My Three Dads: Patriarchy on the Great Plains

Jessa Crispin. Univ. of Chicago, $19 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-226-82010-1

Crispin (The Dead Ladies Club), founder of Bookslut, takes the ideals of the American Midwest to task in this scorching blend of memoir and social critique. In an attempt to exorcise the oppressive beliefs she internalized growing up in small-town Kansas, Crispin unpacks her hometown’s values of religion, family, and “this very Midwestern version of masculinity that is all emotional constipation,” while contending with the “atrocities” they’ve engendered throughout history. In a section titled “The Father,” Crispin recalls a murder-suicide committed by her art teacher on his family in the 1990s to underscore the prevalence of male violence in rural communities and muse on the cultural obsession with “tell[ing] stories about dead white women.” Another astute appraisal uses the martyrdom of John Brown—the abolitionist who combined religious fervor and guns—to examine the complications of culpability when violence is carried out in the name of a perceived greater good. Crispin also dives into her own evangelical youth in the 1980s to poke holes in the promise of the nuclear family structure while considering the pitfalls of subscribing to religion as a means to escape “the terror of freedom. The terror of ourselves.” It doesn’t strike a particularly hopeful note, but Crispin’s erudite analysis and biting wit make this multifaceted history unmissable. Searing and intelligent, this delivers on all counts. (Aug.)