Somehow Form a Family: Stories That Are Mostly True


Praise for Tony Earley

"Tony Earley has a wonderful gift for deep observation, exact and wise and often funny." (Ellen Currie, The New York Times Book Review)

"He writes his stories with care, word by word and sentence by sentence, and they are distinguished by their feeling for the specifics of lives lived in one place, and for their intelligence, and for their humor." (Charles Baxter)

"He sees beneath the surface, the calm water of everyday lives, into the hidden depths of ...

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Praise for Tony Earley

"Tony Earley has a wonderful gift for deep observation, exact and wise and often funny." (Ellen Currie, The New York Times Book Review)

"He writes his stories with care, word by word and sentence by sentence, and they are distinguished by their feeling for the specifics of lives lived in one place, and for their intelligence, and for their humor." (Charles Baxter)

"He sees beneath the surface, the calm water of everyday lives, into the hidden depths of the soul." (Lee Smith)

"What this guy writes is so true it makes sweat pop out on your forehead. Stay tuned. There's more to come." (Robert Inman)

Praise for his best-selling novel, Jim the Boy

"A radiant, knowing, pitch-perfect parable of childhood." (The New York Times)

"A dazzling first novelTThe apparent casualness of the plot masks extraordinary craft." (Newsweek)

"This exquisitely wrought storyTexhibits a clear-eyed maturity, and an understated daring, rarely seen in the most cutting-edge adult fiction." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

"An oddly wonderful period pieceTThis little masterpiece may make you feel like flying." (The Seattle Times)

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Last year, Tony Earley delighted readers young and old with his novel Jim the Boy, a nostalgic portrayal of one year in the life of a ten-year-old growing up in Depression-era North Carolina. In Somehow Form a Family: Stories That Are Mostly True, Earley presents a collection of essays that fall into the gray space between fact and fiction, artfully and unironically piecing together the story of how he became the man he is today.
Library Journal
Somehow Form a Family proved to be a pleasant surprise to a reviewer who found Earley's Jim the Boy rather flat. This offering consists of stories, some fictional, others from his boyhood and more recent life, that should prove fascinating to adult listeners his age or older. Earley strikes some chords with tales related to growing up with black-and-white TV, parents separating, death of a close relative, coming of age and contemplating suicide in college, or simply being a rascally kid. There are both intimately confessional details of the author's search for spirituality and wry observations on the hype, madness, and marketing of an around-the-world record flight aboard an Air France Concorde. These stories will stick with the listener for quite some time. The work is written and read with care, expression, and the appropriate humor or irony by Earley. A fine addition to general adult collections; highly recommended. Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ten homespun personal essays—most published elsewhere—from the author of last year's acclaimed novel Jim the Boy. Earley grew up in a small-town, kudzu-covered corner of North Carolina more recognizable as the terrain of Thomas Wolfe than that of Dorothy Allison. Seven of these pieces explore his early years there, as a 1960s television acolyte, a squirrel-hunting dilettante, and, through it all, an astute, heartbreaking observer of the idiosyncratic people around him. The title story, which appeared in Harper's, serves as an introduction to this American boyhood, wholly transformed by a color, Zenith television set, replete with rooftop antenna. As the cornerstone entry here, a masterful exercise in metaphor, it's hard to imagine what more the author could have to articulate about his young life. But Earley thankfully only has more trenchant memories to spin. With "Hallway," in an equally unadorned language, but with more deeply felt remembrances, Earley recalls, with a child's perception, his extended family's peculiarities and his own fearful awe of his grandfather. A look at the odd Scots-derived Appalachian dialect of his youth ("The Quare Gene") leads to a reflection on the "shared history" that the author is losing with his highland ancestors. A similar wistfulness pervades "Granny's Bridge," a tribute to a time when crossing a bridge—and certainly not one to the 21st century—could enhance a person's outlook. In "Ghost Stories," Earley takes his wife to New Orleans to investigate the haunted city: "We are looking for ghosts, but, I think, a good story will do." And the final piece ("Tour de Fax"), another gem from Harper's, follows him on a record-settingcircumnavigational flight, recorded stop by stop in under 32 hours. Earley's skewering of the trip's corporate sponsors is good fun, and his capstone epiphany—that where he ended up, at home, is the only place he'd fly around the world to get to—rings true. Poetic, inspiring proof that you can go home again. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565123601
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 5/17/2002
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 4.98 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Earley was selected by Granta as one of today's best young writers, The New Yorker featured him in its best young fiction writers issue, and his first novel, Jim the Boy, became a national best-seller. He is also the author of a highly praised collection of short stories, Here We Are in Paradise. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife and teaches writing at Vanderbilt University.
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Read an Excerpt

[ Somehow Form a Family ]

In July 1969, I looked a lot like Opie in the second or third season of The Andy Griffith Show. I was a small boy with a big head. I wore blue jeans with the cuffs turned up and horizontally striped pullover shirts. I was the brother in a father-mother-brother-sister family. We lived in a four-room house at the edge of the country, at the foot of the mountains, outside a small town in North Carolina, but it could have been anywhere.

On one side of us lived Mr. and Mrs. White. They were old and rich. Their driveway was paved. Mrs. White was the president of the town garden club. When she came to visit Mama she brought her own ashtray. Mr. White was almost deaf. When he watched the news on television, it sounded like thunder in the distance. The Whites had an aluminum travel trailer in which you could see your reflection. One summer they hitched it to their Chrysler and pulled it all the way to Alaska.

On the other side of us lived Mack and Joan. They had just graduated from college. I thought Joan was beautiful, and still do. Mack had a bass boat and a three-tray tackle box in which lurked a bristling school of lures. On the other side of Mack and Joan lived Mrs. Taylor, who was old, and on the other side of Mrs. Taylor lived Mr. and Mrs. Frady, who had a fierce dog. My sister, Shelly, and I called it the Frady dog. The Frady dog lived a long and bitter life. It did not die until well after I had a driver's license.

On the far side of the Whites lived Mr. and Mrs. John Harris; Mr. and Mrs. Burlon Harris lived beyond them. John and Burlon were first cousins. John was a teacher who in the summers fixed lawn mowers, including ours, in a building behind his house. Burlon reminded me of Mr. Greenjeans on Captain Kangaroo. He kept horses and let us play in his barn. Shelly once commandeered one of his cats and brought it home to live with us. Burlon did not mind; he asked her if she wanted another one. We rode our bicycles

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Table of Contents

Somehow Form a Family (1)

Hallway (19)

Deer Season, 1974 (51)

Shooting the Cat (57)

The Quare Gene (67)

The Courting Garden (81)

Ghost Stories (87)

A Worn Path (113)

Granny's Bridge (127)

Tour de Fax (137)

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Interviews & Essays

Author Essay
Let's face it, traveling around the country at someone else's expense doesn't strike me as much of a hardship. Still, writers -- myself included -- are notorious whiners. I try to remember that nobody really cares about the time I found a roach the size of a Border collie in my motel room. I do remember, though, one of my less-than-perfect bookstore visits. I hope I've matured considerably since then.

I should have known San Francisco wasn't going to be a Tony Earley town when I pulled into the parking lot and saw, stretched from one end of the bookstore to the other, a banner that proclaimed WELCOME DAVID SEDARIS! in letters roughly the height of Sedaris himself. (He was coming the next day.) I was with my wife, Sarah, who had flown out for my birthday, and my friend, Dennis.

"Nice sign," Dennis said.

"David Sedaris is very funny," Sarah said. "We saw him in Nashville."

"There's nobody here," I said. "There aren't even any cars here."

"Six," said Dennis.

"Stop whining," Sarah said. She comes from a long line of dour Scots and doesn't suffer writers gladly.

"You're not pretty when you whine," Dennis said.

"I'm not whining."

"Actually, yes, you are."

"I wish we didn't have to leave tomorrow," said Sarah. "I'd love to see David Sedaris.

"Welcome!" said the shift manager. "We're so pleased to have you. We love your book."

She wasn't fooling me.

"We have a few minutes before your signing. Can I get you anything?"

"Maybe you should eat something," Sarah said.

"I want a sandwich," I said. "A chicken sandwich."

"He has low blood sugar," Sarah said. "He gets cranky when he goes without eating."

"I'm not cranky."

"Actually, yes, you are," Dennis said.

The manager led us to a table outside. I pulled out my cell phone.

"Who are you calling?" Sarah asked.

"My publicist. David Sedaris and I shouldn't be within five hundred miles of each other."

"You mean, you shouldn't be within five hundred miles of him," Dennis said.

"Put down that phone," Sarah said.

I stuck the phone in my pocket. "Well, of course David Sedaris is going to be huge in San Francisco," I said. "But I'd like to see how many people he gets in Raleigh."

"Actually, he's from Raleigh," Sarah said. "I imagine he does really well in Raleigh."

"Okay, then, Asheville. I'd like to see how he does in Asheville."

Dennis and Sarah stared at me sadly.

"Fine then. Forest City. I bet that at Fireside books in Forest City, North Carolina, I kick David Sedaris' butt."

"That's where you're from, right?" Dennis asked.

I nodded.

Dennis thought for a minute. "Okay," he said, "I might give you that one."

"Damn right," I said.

I paced back and forth in a small stock room, listening to the shift manager introduce me over a PA system that seemed entirely too loud for a deserted bookstore.

"I'm not going out there," I said.

"Tony..." said Sarah.

"I mean it. There are only six people at this thing, and I brought two of them with me. It's humiliating."

"So it's not a big crowd," Sarah said. "So what? There are four people out there who came to see you. What about them?"

"I don't care."

"Yes, you do."

"Well, okay, I do, a little. But don't get comfortable. I'm going to read eight minutes, then we're getting the hell out of here."

"Hi," I said into the microphone.

"Hi," said a man sitting in the front row. "I'm Don and this is my wife, Hope."

"Hi Don. Hi Hope." The two women sitting in the back didn't introduce themselves. "I'm going to read from Jim the Boy."

"We're looking forward to it," said Hope.

After I had read a page or two, I saw Don gently elbow Hope in the ribs. They looked at each other and nodded. They liked it. More important, they liked me. I began to read directly to them. Don and Hope became beloved children I was reading to sleep, the congregation of a church I pastored, favorite teachers I wanted only to please. I read every sentence as if something depended on it. I forgot about Dennis and Sarah and the two women in the back. I almost forgot about David Sedaris. And, lo and behold, when I finished reading, Don and Hope bought seven books.

"You were wonderful," Hope said at the signing table.

"Thank you."

"We had never heard of you until just now," she added. "But we're so glad we stayed."

"I'm glad you stayed, too," I said.

"Oh, you don't know how much," said Sarah. (Tony Earley)

Copyright © 2002 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2008

    Read It Several Times

    This book might mean the most to a certain person, but I loved it! Mr. Earley's book is a collection of essays about his life and childhood. I think it's wonderfully written and a true joy!

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