A Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S. Series)

A Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S. Series)

by Kevin Sampsell
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A Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S. Series) by Kevin Sampsell

In 2003 Kevin Sampsell authored a chapbook memoir of the same title. It was written as a kind of "memory experiment," in which he recollected luminous details from his childhood in independently amusing chapters. It functioned as an experiential catalogue of American youth in the 70s and 80s.

In 2008 Kevin's estranged father died of an aneurysm. When he returned home to Kennewick, Washington for the funeral, Kevin's mother revealed to him disturbing threads in their family history -- stories of incest, madness, betrayal, and death -- which retroactively colored Kevin's memories of his upbringing and youth. He learned of his mother's first two husbands, the fathers of his three older, mythologized half-siblings, and the havoc they wreaked on his mother. He learned of his own father's seething resentment of his step-children, which was expressed in physical, pyschological, and sexual abuse. And he learned more about his oldest step-sister, Elinda, who, as a young girl, was labeled "feebleminded" by a teacher. When she became a teenager, she was sent to a psychiatric hospital. She entered the clinic at 98 pounds. She left two years later 200 pounds, diabetic, having endured numerous shock treatments. Then, after finally returning home, she was made pregnant by Kevin's father. Only at the end of the book do we learn what chance in life a person like this has.

While his family's story provides the framework of the book, what's left in between is Kevin's story of growing up in the Pacific Northwest. He tells of his first jobs, first bands, first loves, and one worn, teal blue suitcase filled with the choicest porn in all of Kennewick, Washington.

Employing the same form of memoir as he did in his previous book, Kevin intertwines the tragic with the everyday, the dysfunctional with the fun, lending A COMMON PORNOGRAPHY its undeniable, unsensationalized reality. The elastic conceit of his "memory experiment" captures the many shades and the whole of the Sampsell family -- both its tragedy and its resiliency. Kevin relates this history in a charming, honest, insightful, and funny voice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061766107
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/19/2010
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 218
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Kevin Sampsell has been the publisher of Future Tense Books since 1990. His own books include the short story collections Beautiful Blemish and Creamy Bullets. In 2009, he edited the anthology Portland Noir. He works for Powell's Books and lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S. Series) 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
wightknyte More than 1 year ago
This has to be one of the oddest (and most interesting) memoirs I've ever read. Most memoirs I've seen seem to take some organizing viewpoint and filter everything through that, some pose that the author wants you to view their life through. Sampsell frames his work well through his experience of his father's death, but he is much more subtle about the connections between the vignettes. He seems to let the experiences speak for themselves, not acting like he's necessarily figured it all out and summarized it easily, though he stays well enough in control. He definitely has some off-beat choices about where things flow too, turns in concept and thought leaps, that can be hysterically funny at some points and starkly touching at others. It definitely isn't just another memoir.
dvsrobbie More than 1 year ago
characters never really develop except for the author and his life isnt entertaining in any way. i read a review that said this book was all about sex and drugs and his family life. it is more like his family life which is boring except when he talks about his dad and he only does a few times. he smokes pot a few times ( how exciting) and jerked off a couple dudes and had sex with a few women. im not impressed with his life. im not sure why he felt the need to write about it but i dont see why anyone would care.
FloridaGirlJB More than 1 year ago
It was the title that caught my attention and I couldn't reconcile it with the image on the cover. However, it was a great day for me to find this interesting little book that captures memories so concisely. I let other books wait while I read this one. The author gives these neat snippets of memory and family lore that pull you in and let you know your own family is not so strange and that we all have that in common. I hope the author writes more about his brother Matt in the future.
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bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Despite the bad publicity of a few memoirs by people who were later determined to be less than truthful, the genre is still flourishing. I recently reviewed The Kids Are All Right, the story of the four Welch siblings, who were left orphaned after their father's death in a car accident and their mother's death by cancer a short time later. The four siblings took turns writing about their memories in short, one and two page sections. It has been said that each child in a family grows up with different parents, and their story illustrates that point. Kevin Sampsell's memoir "A Common Pornography" is written in a similar style. His one-and-two page mini-essays read like diary entries. Reading them is like sitting with Sampsell while he is looking at a family photo album, each page a picture triggering a memory. The pictures add up to a life lived in a family that is deeply troubled. Sampsell has two older half-brothers who were pretty much out of the house by the time he could remember. His half-sister spent ten years in a psychiatric hospital, and while there gave birth to a child who was taken from her. She later married an abusive man who pimped her out for sex to other men. She again got pregnant and again gave up her baby. She was impregnated once more, this time by her stepfather, Kevin's father. Two other brothers lived with Kevin, one of whom was black. Matt was the product of an affair that Kevin's mother had with an African man when she and Kevin's father had been estranged. Kevin describes a beautiful story Matt told him about going to Africa and meeting his father's relatives. He had several mannerisms of his father, and they were mesmerized by this young man who looked and acted so much like their deceased relative. Out of this sad, violent, strange family, Kevin managed to grow up. His stories of loneliness, isolation and attempts to connect with girls are heartbreaking, and yet familiar to many. His description of working at a donut shop and the friends he made there had me flashing back to my first job working at a movie theater. His stories about his his father's funeral and the feelings it triggers in him and his siblings almost hurt to read. His brother Mark, the one who stayed behind to care for his ill father, seems almost totally unable to function as an adult. Following the funeral, Kevin's mother attempts to share all of the secrets that she had been keeping, answers to questions the children were never allowed to ask. A Common Pornography is heartbreakingly sad, speared with humor, yet above all it is honest. Sampsell speaks truth to the difficulty of finding oneself in this lonely world, made all the more frightening by the horrible dysfunction he grew up in. It is not for everyone, there is rough language and tough situations, and it is not written like a conventional memoir, but many will find it comforting to know that there are people out there who share their struggles.