Monday, June 12, 2017

“The World’s Largest Man” by Harrison Scott Key

Harrison Scott Key is funny. I’m reading The World’s Largest Man, published in 2015, and I find myself laughing out loud, not once but many times. This memoir of growing up with a larger-than-life father in Mississippi doesn’t only ring true; it rings familiar. My own father didn’t hunt or fish, but in many respects he resembled Key’s father. I suspect this may be true for many of us who grew up in the South from the 1950s to the 1980s.

We know this man. He does funny things, crazy things, sometimes mean things, sometimes shockingly unexpected and kind things. He can drive his wife and out mother crazy. And if we are not like him, we will believe he is forever disappointed in us.

Key tells his story with humor. He didn’t like hunting, and his father (and his stepbrother) loved it, seeing it not only as something to do but something vital and important to do. He often didn’t know what to think of a son who liked to read, studied hard, enjoyed shopping with his mother (shopping?), and didn’t think the epitome of life’s experiences was sitting in a deer blind in freezing temperatures. Conflict was inevitable.

Key also tells his story with a very subtle pain. The humor betrays the pain. It can’t be helped with a larger-than-life father; a son’s pain is inevitable. And the pain is there in this very funny book.

The World’s Largest Man is officially a memoir, but it reads like two memoirs, one about Key and his father and one about Key and his marriage. It might have better as two books, but it still works as one.

Harrison Scott Key
A contributing editor at Oxford American Magazine, Key has published nonfiction and humor in The New York Times, Outside, The Best American Travel Writing, Southern Living, Salon, Reader’s Digest, and many more. He teaches at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He and his family live in Savannah, Georgia.

The World’s Largest Man won the 2016 Thurber Prize for American Humor. And with good reason. It’s funny and often wildly funny. But then it would have to be, to account for a father like that.

Top photograph by Livin4Wheel via Unpslash. Used with permission.

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