King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography

King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography

4.1 7
by Chris Crutcher
     
 

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Do you know:

  • A good reason to be phobic about oysters and olives?
  • How shutting your mouth can help you avoid brain surgery?
  • How to survive in the winter wilderness with only a fishing pole and a sausage?

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Overview

Do you know:

  • A good reason to be phobic about oysters and olives?
  • How shutting your mouth can help you avoid brain surgery?
  • How to survive in the winter wilderness with only a fishing pole and a sausage?

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Chris Crutcher, the author of Whale Talk, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Stotan! and other popular sports-themed novels for young adults, says that some of the nutty, cruel and unusual stuff in his books really happened. At least it did to him. And that is the fun and the tender heart of an entertaining and not at all ill-advised memoir. — Tom Bodett
Publishers Weekly
"In this funny, bittersweet and brutally honest autobiography, Crutcher recounts his journey from a boyhood misspent in remote Cascade, Idaho, to his present life as a writer," wrote PW in a starred review. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
Already a favorite with young adults, Crutcher pens an autobiography of his youth that will find an easy audience in a genre that teachers and librarians sometimes find hard to sell. His stories about the anguish that was his childhood are both sad and funny. He suffers from being nearly three years younger than his brother, from living in a small town where invisibility is impossible, and from being totally unathletic in a school where everyone is expected to play. Through a series of vignettes, Crutcher lays bare many painful memories of his childhood, and readers see the source of some of his best stories and characters. His fiery temper, which flares hottest when he is embarrassed, is later exhibited by his characters in Chinese Handcuffs (Greenwillow, 1989/VOYA June 1989), Ironman (1995/VOYA June 1995), and Whale Talk (2001/VOYA June 2001). His experience on his college swim team with a coach who "invites" the team to a week of stamina training over Christmas break forms the framework for his immensely popular Stotan! (1986/VOYA April 1986). His own struggles with organized religion are reflected by many of his characters, as they try to make sense out of chaos. His work as a family therapist helping damaged children and the adults who torment them colors his characters in many ways and gives edge to his themes. In telling his own story, Crutcher entertains readers, challenges them, and touches their hearts. This is a biography that will be read-not skimmed-and loved. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, HarperCollins, 208p,
— LeslieCarter
Chris Crutcher, the renowned author of Chinese Handcuffs and Staying Fat for Sarah Burns (among other award winners), has strung together a set of Christmas lights in his "Ill-Advised Autobiography." In this book, fresh incidents are mingled with favorites that he has included in many of his talks before audiences of young adult literature fans. Crutcher offers a composite of the characters who appear in his fiction. Though he occasionally jumps back and forth chronologically, the style, the sarcasm, the pity, the heart� indeed all the issues that pack his novels�are in this non-fiction book about his very own life. The events he chooses to write about allow the reader to speculate on those he didn't share, though he names name, even unflatteringly, in an effort to explore truth. The book reads fast; it is engaging, and satisfying. The qualities that permeates the book and endears Chris to his fans, is the element that he applies to his hero Michael Jordan, and one he shares with him: humor and humility. 2003, Greenwillow Books, 208 pp.,
— Len DeAngelis
Children's Literature
If you have read any of Crutcher's books, his autobiography won't be too surprising. It will be especially appealing to guys, because it appears to have a ring of truth-covering all those topics from sexual awakening to pranks at home and school. Chris Crutcher writes with flair but the book seems to have been written as separate vignettes, and when compiled, seems repetitive. He admits that he hates revision and that probably accounts for some of the repeated information. We know by the end of the book that he had a very bad temper, that he was called bawlbaby and grew up to be a therapist in the field of child abuse and neglect. His own childhood shows that he suffered at the hands of his mother, but he also greatly admired his older, stronger, sibling. His father was very rigid man and we learn that not only was his mother a heavy smoker but an alcoholic. That Chris Crutcher turned out to be the writer he is will amaze some readers, especially since he cribbed a whole year's worth of homework assignments from his older brother. The antics in high school, his lack of athletic prowess, the crushes and reflection are all on view. It wasn't easy growing up in a small town in Idaho in the 1960s. While I thought some of the stuff was downright stupid, I know there will be plenty of male appeal. My husband laughed himself silly reading the book. The one question that lingered with me was, what about his sister? She never seemed to be a fully developed character. His mother wasn't either, but you did feel like you got know the male characters. Fans will love seeing how incidents in Chris Crutchers' life ended up in his books. Most librarians will need multiple copies, and don't be surprised ifsome parent groups try banning this autobiography. Too bad, because it is interesting to learn more about the man who has written so many highly acclaimed books. 2003, Greenwillow/HarperCollins, Ages 13 up.
— Marilyn Courtot
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-For those who want to know the real poop behind this popular author's characters (and, to some extent, his character), this is the book you've been waiting for. The cover photo tells it all: a white picket fence in the background, for all the world as straight and orderly and stereotypically 1950s proper as the author's maddeningly rational father, "Crutch," wanted things to appear. But looming in the foreground is toothy, smiling Chris, the short-fused emotional time bomb who regularly exploded into anger and tears. Protective of his alcoholic mom and at almost constant odds with his strict and demanding dad, Crutcher describes incidents and telling episodes from his formative years. His signature wit was sharpened in response to both his feelings of inadequacy and his competitive nature, honed by participation in high school and college sports. He addresses issues about his use of profanity in his writing for teens. Tough and tender reminiscences focus primarily on family, social, and school conflicts, but lessons derived from his career as a teacher, therapist, and writer are also described. Hyperbole lightens the mood as the author portrays himself as a young crybaby, academic misfit, and athletic klutz, utterly without self-aggrandizement. Abrupt transitions, some convoluted sentences, and nonlinear progression may challenge some readers, but the narrative holds undeniable appeal for the author's fans and demonstrates the power of writing to help both reader and writer heal emotional/psychic wounds.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Telling the story of growing up in a tiny Idaho town, Crutcher relates how "an unusual path leads from my life as a coonskin-cap-wearing, pimply-faced, 123-pound offensive lineman with a string of spectacularly dismal attempts at romance, to a storyteller of modest acclaim." His father was a bomber pilot who had settled into a small-town life of running a wholesale oil and gas business, his mother a ghostly, drinking, chain-smoking presence who died of emphysema. Early scenes read like Gary Paulsen�s Harris and Me (1993) or Jack Gantos�s Jack Henry tales. Now a child-abuse therapist, Crutcher is clear that his awareness of social cruelty began with the adolescent cruelty of high-school life. What might have been just a volume of funny or unsettling anecdotes becomes a candid take on lessons learned, with a clear adult perspective. This is a good read and a deeply moral and philosophical work with important messages about life, death, relativity, heroism, and why bad things sometimes happen to good people. Like Gantos�s Hole in My Life (2002), it tells a strong story to get at strong truths. Essential for the many fans of Crutcher�s work, and new readers will go from here to his fiction. (Nonfiction. YA)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060502515
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/05/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
322,337
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

King of the Mild Frontier

An Ill-Advised Autobiography
By Chris Crutcher

Greenwillow

ISBN: 0060502495


Chapter One


Fireworks

I grew up riding a rocket. If legendary rocket man Wernher von Braun could have harnessed the power of my meteoric temper, we'd have beaten the Russians into space by a good six months. The bits of evidence lay in the wake of my explosive impulsivity like trailer-house pieces behind Hurricane Andrew: broken toys, holes in walls, a crack from top to bottom in a full-length mirror on the bathroom door of "the little house" where I lived until just after my seventh birthday. My dad purposely didn't replace that mirror as a reminder, a monument to me. Subsequently, when he'd see me heating up, he'd point to it and ask one of those questions to which adults never really want an answer: "Are you proud of that?"

"No," I lied, my bottom lip stuck out so far he could have pulled it over my forehead. Of course I was proud of it; I'd had to slam it three times to get it to break.

There was a famous family story about how my temper had been "cured" right around the age of two. It was told by my mother at bridge club, Christmas get-togethers, and you-think-your-kids-are-a-pain-in-the-butt afternoon coffee sessions at the Chief Caf�. It went something like this: "Chris was very difficult to deal with, even at an early age. When things didn't go his way, he would throw himself into the air, kick his legs out from under him, and land hard on the floor. I was afraid he'd hurt himself, so I called Dr. Patterson for advice. Dr. Patterson said, 'Just roll one of those wooden alphabet blocks under him when he goes up. That should take care of it.' So the next time he launched himself, I rolled the block under him, and sure enough he never did it again." I knew how to keep this story going; I'd done it for years.

"But ...," I'd say, pointing toward the sky.

"But," my mother went on, "then he began storming into the bathroom and hitting his head against the bathtub when he got mad."

"So you called the ever-compassionate Dr. Patterson...." I said.

"And he told me to 'help' him. Just push his head a little harder than he intended."

"And lo and behold ..."

"He stopped hitting his head against the bathtub."

I'd heard that story all my life, and had been convinced it was a good one, probably because it was about me. On the thousandth telling, however, I sat in a circle in my parents' living room with a group of their friends on Christmas Eve. I was in my mid-thirties, and a thought that should have crossed my mind eons ago pried its way into my consciousness. I said, "Jewell"-the Crutcher kids always called our parents by their first names, which probably deserves closer scrutiny somewhere in this confessional-"do you remember the long crack in the full-length mirror in the bathroom at the little house?"

She frowned. "Of course. Your father wouldn't get it fixed. He left it as a reminder to you."

"Of my temper," I said. "I did that when I was five. Do you remember the hole I kicked in the plasterboard in my bedroom when Paula Whitson asked Frankie Bilbao instead of me to the Sadie Hawkins dance?"

Jewell released a long sigh. "Your father didn't have that fixed, either."

"As a reminder of my temper," I said. "I did that when I was a junior in high school. Do you remember the Volkswagen Bug I had up until about six months ago? With the top that looked as if it had been stung by bees from my punching it from the inside when the electrical system died on a busy street?"

"Yes, dear."

"Crutch wouldn't have had that fixed, either," I said, smiling at my dad. "I did that when I was thirty-three, a little over a year ago. Your story isn't about curing a kid's temper. It's about pissing him off for the rest of his life by rolling blocks under him and whacking his head against the bathtub instead of letting him have his two-year-old rage. Stop telling it."

What my mother didn't say then-and something she and I often talked about years later in the long-term care wing of Valley County Hospital where she had gone to die slowly of emphysema resulting from forty years of a two-and-a-half-pack-a-day habit-was that her fear for me in those days wasn't really that I'd hurt myself bouncing off the floor or banging my head, but that I would grow up with the same temper that stalked and embarrassed and humbled her throughout her own life. Though I couldn't have known it in those early years, it was one of my first experiences with a phenomenon I discovered years later as a child abuse and neglect therapist at the Spokane (Washington) Mental Health Center: Shit rolls downhill.

I'm sure I could audit my early life and find times when my temper was my friend, when it got me through situations where my fear stopped me cold. It certainly helped me survive my early years on the Cascade High School football team where I started out as a 123-pound offensive lineman, when in practice I'd get so angry at the grass stains on my back and the cleat marks on my chest that I'd finally hit someone hard enough to satisfy the coach sufficiently to let me out of the drill. And it got me through my one and only full-tilt fight in junior high school when my embarrassment turned to rage the moment I saw the aforementioned Paula Whitson witness Mike Alkyre cracking my jaw. It took three guys to pull me off, and though I was still the odds-on kid most likely to have my butt kicked by someone from a lower grade, some of them would think twice after watching me cross over into the land of I Don't Care. But far more often than not, my temper brought out behavior that made me embarrassed to show my face around our lumber town of fewer than a thousand citizens for a couple of weeks.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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