In his uneven first book, Smith presents the reader with scenes from his life, covering his career in the film industry, alcoholism, ego issues and a quest for meaning. Smith provides plenty of flashbacks from his years as a misguided, sky-diving 20-something and also tackles his existential battle at the age of 57 (in the opening chapter, which takes up a full third of the book, Smith treks up a hill to perform Native American meditation practices). Occasionally using vivid, descriptive language and other times passing over important topics in summary (the death of his first child, his second marriage), the author searches for a central theme, and despite the book's title, being a key grip isn't it; Smith doesn't address that topic directly until he's two-thirds of the way through his story. Other chapters, such as brief entries about snapping turtles, are more tangential than metaphorical. At times, Smith jumps from first to second person, with two chapters written from one version of himself to another. This lack of focus leads to patchwork reading, though some will doubtless be seduced by Smith's forthright, rueful voice. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Key Grip: A Memoir of Endless Consequencesby Dustin Beall Smith
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A key grip, Dustin Beall Smith explains in this award-winning debut memoir, is the person on a film set who supervises the rigging of lights, set wall construction, dolly shots, stunt preparation, and more. Smith worked in the film industry throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. For him, “fame by association”—with iconic stars including Sly Stallone, Susan Sarandon, and Robert De Niro—was just one of the seductive drugs fueling his high-octane days on the set.
The intertwined stories in Key Grip resurrect memories of how his father’s impossibly ordered life became a goad for Smith’s own reckless journey to manhood. Its trajectory includes a stint as a pioneering sport-parachuting instructor in the late 1950s—a young man’s dream job that taught Smith how to hide sheer animal fear behind male bravado. Much later, as a committed writer and unredeemed seeker in his fifties, Smith lights out cross-country for what turns out to be a brave, existentially failed—and very funny—attempt at a Lakota vision quest.
Beautifully told, reminiscent of both Robert Bly and Ian Frazier, Key Grip is a fascinating record of the fault lines of one man’s life.
DUSTIN BEALL SMITH’s Key Grip won the 2007 Bakeless Prize for nonfiction, awarded by the Middlebury College Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and judged by Terry Tempest Williams. Smith has lived in New York City for over forty years and teaches writing at Gettysburg College.
"A wise, intensely readable autobiography that should please those...who like a spoonful of gossip to make the life lessons go down." Booklist, ALA
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Meet the Author
Dustin Beall Smith’s Key Grip won the 2007 Bakeless Prize for nonfiction, awarded by the Middlebury College Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and judged by Terry Tempest Williams. Smith teaches at Gettysburg College and lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and New York City.
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