King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography
King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography
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Annotation: Chris Crutcher, author of young adult novels such as "Ironman" and "Whale Talk," as well as short stories, tells of growing up in Cascade, Idaho, and becoming a writer.
Genre: Biographies
Catalog Number: #171283
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
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Special Formats: Inventory Sale Inventory Sale
Publisher: HarperCollins
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition Date: 2004
Pages: 260 pages
Availability: Available (Limited Quantities Available / While Supplies Last)
ISBN: Publisher: 0-06-050251-7 Perma-Bound: 0-605-01353-5
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-06-050251-5 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-01353-7
Dewey: 921
LCCN: 2002011224
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
Horn Book
Novelist and short story writer Crutcher has discovered his most effective voice in this collection of episodic, autobiographical essays. Most of the stories serve as introductions to his meditations on such subjects as anger or heroism or religion or cruelty--themes that inform all his work. Crutcher concludes that life gives him "a rich pool for stories"; he, in turn, shares that gift with readers.
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)
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.) n

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.
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Like his novels, Crutcher's autobiography is full of heartbreak, poignancy, and hilarity. Candid and casual, Crutcher shares stories from his childhood and adolescence in Cascade, Idaho. Reminiscences of some of his youthful rites of passage are laugh-out-loud funny, such as his humiliating initiation into his high-school athletic club. On a more serious note, he discusses his occasionally rocky relationships with his parents and siblings. He talks openly about his struggles with a bad temper that constantly got him into trouble, how he came to terms with questions about God, how he confronted intolerance, and how he found his own place in the world. He also shares several painful glimpses into his work as a child and family therapist trying to help people heal some very broken lives. This honest, insightful, revealing autobiography is a joy to read. Crutcher's fans will relish this intimate glimpse of the author, and the book may win some new readers for his fiction.
Word Count: 56,254
Reading Level: 6.8
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.8 / points: 9.0 / quiz: 69069 / grade: Upper Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:8.2 / points:14.0 / quiz:Q33704
Lexile: 1180L
Guided Reading Level: Z+
Fountas & Pinnell: Z+
King of the Mild Frontier
An Ill-Advised Autobiography

Chapter One


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 Café. 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 wo-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.

King of the Mild Frontier
An Ill-Advised Autobiography
. Copyright © by Chris Crutcher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher
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