In Crapalachia: A Biography of Place, Scott McClanahan, has become unstuck in time. Haunted by the ghosts of his departed loved ones, McClanahan revisits his formative years in an attempt to raise a monument of written remembrances to those who have meant so much to him throughout his life. Ruby and Nathan, the author’s grandmother and uncle, take up the most emotional real-estate in the book. While they are the heart and soul of this story, McClanahan’s narration is clearly the main character here. McClanahan renders himself as a supporting character in this story, rarely taking center stage as the subject of the writing. The resulting observations and recollections of family and friends become responsible for most of the joy this story has to offer.
Crapalachia is at times a small, personal tale; and at other points epic. McClanahan talks about his home in sweeping historic terms. He is able to summarize decades of Appalachian history in wonderful, stylish, compact paragraphs. The tone of these interstitials is reminiscent of the dreams in Raising Arizona where the Coen brother’s hero, H.I. McDunnough, narrates his nightmares, and visions of the future. The reader has this sense that time is unfolding before them; and the events described, while decades apart, are intimately connected to the present.
Although the book is not without grim and somber scenes, it is for the most part comic. Still, the earnest moments are dealt with such tenderness and deftness that it is impossible not to be moved. McClanahan has a killer combo one two punch; he disarms the reader with irreverent, scatological humor, and then breaks your heart with beautifully rendered human moments. Often the combination is so skilled that the laughs and the heartbreak seem to be delivered simultaneously. McClanahan is a classic storyteller, his voice is reminiscent of a type of writing that feels old timey, and yet is undeniably fresh and vital. The prose held within this book stand as a great example of how to innovate, and make new, while simultaneously remaining relatable and familiar.