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A Liar's Truth.

Prolific writer Gerald Duff offers a strikingly forthcoming memoir as his latest work. He comes to Home Truths with numerous credentials: prize-winning author of eight novels among more than a dozen books; onetime English professor at Vanderbilt University; Kenyon College, and Johns Hopkins and former administrator at Goucher College. Rhodes College, and McKendree University; and Phi Kappa Phi member through the McKendrce chapter. For Home Truths, a passage from Duffs homepage (geraldduff.com). explaining how his literary output reflects his East Texas upbringing, is most relevant:
  Duff grew up in two parts of Texas: the petrochemical area of the Gulf
  Coast, and the pine barrens of Deep bast Texas, which made for
  two-mindedness and a bifurcated view of the world, as he demonstrates
  in his fiction. His characters are deeply rooted both in the past and
  in the present, and they struggle fiercely and comically in a quest
  to achieve escape velocity from places which are not their homes.


Home Truths, subtitled A Deep East Texas Memory, tells Duffs own struggle to escape. That the struggle was unsuccessful on a psychological level gives the memoir itself a two-mindedness in which the author's inner turmoil is offset by occasional comic relief.

Readers knowledgeable of Fast Texas will recognize the truth of Duffs bifurcated geography. He was born in 1938 in Beaumont, heart of the industrial "Golden Triangle" alongside the other port cities of Port Arthur and Orange, and home to oil refineries and chemical plants. When Duff was in the fourth grade, his father lost his blue-collar job with Sun Oil Company and moved the family to rural Polk County in Hast Texas, where he had grown up; where the plumbing consisted only of a bucket and a dipper; and "where Duffs of every description and small-mindedness lived and wondered, watching and critiquing each other's every deed, habit, thought, and predilection." A few years later, the Duffs returned to the Golden Triangle, the adolescent bearing bad memories of Polk County and the small-mindedness of his father's family.

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This might explain why Home Truths also focuses on imaginative lies Duff told others--and himself "I have spent my life lying about what 1 could not bear to accept as truth," he concludes, "and I have ended up writing fiction, lies about what happened to people.... The lie has been my comfort and my refuge." Duffs lies sometimes rise to the level of humor, as in his boast to college friends about seducing a divorced woman who, actually, never let him touch her. More often, he casts the lies darkly; and a reader senses the pain they were intended to relieve.

The hurt that preoccupies Duff contains surprising candor (even from a self-professed "liar"), especially about his negativity toward his father. For instance, as his father is dying in a nursing home, Duff sits in a car "crying bitterly aloud at the fact that I had seen my father brought low, as 1 had always wanted him to be when I lived with him as a child, I finally had what 1 wanted now. and its taste was not what I expected." While failing to elaborate why he wanted his father 'brought low," Duff reveals a long-harbored blame on the husband and parent. Thus, his father even haunts Duffs adult dreams: "He does not leave me alone. He continues to forgive me. and I have not to this day been able to do the same for him, his blessing and my curse."

Phi Kappa Phi members may appreciate Duffs academic adventures. He changed his college major from electrical engineering (a highly regarded field in the late 1950s at what's now Lamar University in Beaumont) to English, followed by graduate studies at the universities of Arkansas and Illinois, and faculty appointments thereafter. But even with these successes, Duff admits that escape from his family and roots is illusory.

Indeed, near the end of the memoir. Duff focuses on a male first cousin, once a constant childhood companion, who as an adult was convicted of manslaughter. At the funeral of Duff's father, the cousin calls the author his role model and by way of elaboration adds that Duff "led me to know how to be bad." Duff admits to himself that "the convicted slaughterer of men, the boy who had pushed a lawn mower with me," had told the truth. And now, decades later. Duff ruminates that he "need never think of him again," since his cousin was "dead now and buried in some graveyard of the Gulf coast. ... We were kin only in blood, not in kind, I tell myself that, but I know it's another one of my lies"--a powerful expression of "there but for the grace of God go I." This sense of what could have happened to Duff bubbles up from beneath the surface prose; nostalgia and accomplishment play only minor roles.

In this respect the book resembles a male version of Mary Karrs 1995 Liars Club, another memoir from industrial East Texas. The home truths here really are not the truths about the home where Duff grew up, but about the discordant home that he carries with him, in his heart and mind.

William A. Bloodworth, Jr. (Society President), raised in San Antonio and small Texas towns, earned a B.S. in English and education from Texas Lutheran University (TLU), an M.A. in English from Lamar University, and a Ph.D. in American civilization from University of Texas at Austin. He has written widely on the American West and authored two books, Max Brand (1993) and Upton Sinclair (1977), both published by Twayne. Bloodworth has been president of Augusta State University since 1993 and instrumental in its Phi Kappa Phi chapter. On a national level, he served on the Society's Fellowship Committee from 1991 to 1997 and was the keynote speaker at the 2004 Convention. Honors include a 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award from TLU. Email him at wbloodwo@aug.edu.
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Author:Bloodworth, William A., Jr.
Publication:Phi Kappa Phi Forum
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2012
Words:993
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