I was fortunate to get my hands on an advanced copy of Fire Shut Up In My Bones by New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow. From the very first sentences of Charles Blow’s memoir, I was captivated. So much difference between our lives and, yet, so much sameness. His story telling perfectly exemplifies the connection Maya Angelou spoke of when she said, “I am human, therefore, nothing human can be alien to me.” However, the ability to capture the depth of this connection is a gift that few writers have actually given me. I feel like he pulled thoughts right out of my head and channeled them through his fingers and onto his keyboard.
Charles’s memoir can be succinctly described an account of growing up in the South, but as a person from such a very distinct geography from “The South” as Southern California, I don’t think that captures the connections, the bridges of human experience that his story provides. As a Chicana (Mexican-American woman) who grew up in poverty in Southern California, my experiences resonate with those of a Black man who grew up in poverty in Louisiana. And that is the mark of truly breadth-reaching and breath-taking writing.
When he speaks of growing up in the South, there is little of that physical location that I can relate to, but his descriptions of his surroundings bring me there. My senses captured sights and sounds through his words…from descriptions of the landscape that I could see in my mind’s eye to the packed earth that I could smell, feel, and taste, bringing me back to the keen observations that children have of their world.
It was the emotion palpitating from each sentence that carried me lyrically from one to the next. Many passages sang out so beautifully that I read them over and over, like I was playing my favorite song. I savored each word and lingered on each one.
His memoir also speaks of pain with an incredible bravery and courage. Those of us who are survivors of childhood abuse will feel a strong connection. He makes you feel not so alone… The anger, pain, and healing are all palpable.
He describes the complexity of psychological, social and emotional formation from childhood into adulthood with a clarity that is intensely relatable. I found myself thinking a number of times, “I was like that as a kid” or “I did that when I was a kid.”
And when I read about the kittens…well, my heart filled with a warmth of knowing, “I knew that’s what he’d do.” I’ll leave it at that…
Not only will you know about Charles’ life and character after reading his memoir, but you may very well know yourself more profoundly as well. It’s writing that emanates from the soul and made my heart both ache and sing. That’s what great writing does…leaves us mesmerized, fulfilled, and yet, contradictorily wanting more, and, in the end, we don’t quite know exactly how all of that was accomplished.
Fire Shut Up In My Bones is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is available September 23rd. You can pre-order it now: http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Shut-Up-My-Bones/dp/0544228049 I highly recommend that you do!