Memoir Short Takes: Gavin McInnes Pisses in Public & Moshe Kasher Comes of Age in Oakland

by Julie Kane

The likelihood of a small group of memoirs including two titles by the hearing children of deaf parents is brain-scrambling, but that’s what we have here! Also in this bunch: an aneurysm arrives mid-divorce; a Bombay bar dancer takes a journalist through her tumultuous life; a couple finds their way through the gutting of their first home; and, well, I’m not sure how to sum up Gavin McInnes.

Batt, Matthew. Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into our Home Sweet Home. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Jun. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780547634531. pap. $14.95. MEMOIR
Batt (English, Univ.of St. Thomas) and his wife, Jenae, buy a falling-down former crack house in Salt Lake City at the exact moment their lives seems bent on collapse. Lacking any skills in either homeownership or construction, they dive headlong into home rehab, juggling family and existential crises along the way. Whether the focus is on the installation of a hand-cut slate floor tile or Grandpa’s new floozy girlfriend, Batt’s retelling is fast-paced. Everyone has a crazy family, but who has a crazy family and a crack house to renovate into a first home at the same time? That takes guts or insanity, and the fun of this book in finding out how it all ends up. VERDICT His description of I don’t belong here aisles in Home Depot feels so familiar. While it’s no how-to, this book makes it fun to follow Batt’s how-we-did-it, warts and all.

Crews, Kambri. Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir. Villard: Random. Mar. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780345516022. $25. MEMOIR
Monologist and Moth-veteran Crews begins her memoir with a visit to her father in prison, where he is serving 20 years for attacking and almost killing (by near-decapitation) his girlfriend. The author grew up as a hearing child of two deaf adults, and her and her father’s life until that point had been an uncertain, jagged journey. While her father is charismatic and instills fierce loyalty in the family, Crews begins to dissect her own history with a nuanced and careful eye. Her parents’ volatile relationship, mostly hidden from their children, and her father’s instability, led them from house to trailer, trailer to tin shack. Facing the truth of her father’s history, including one especially illuminating night of violence, Crews sheds light on her entire family’s past. VERDICT While there’s plenty of memoir fodder in the hearing-child-of-two-deaf-parents subject, Crews’s story has heartbreaking depth and complexity. With insight into her father’s feelings about deafness, his über-Christian family’s response to his violence against the women in his life, and the culture of the deaf community, this is a rich read.

Kasher, Moshe. Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy From Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16. Grand Central. Mar. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780446584265. $24.99. MEMOIR
At just four-years-old, stand-up comedian Kasher was placed in psychotherapy. The youngest hearing child of two deaf parents, he was taken on vacation at age one by his mother to Oakland, CA, from their home in New York City and they never went back. Kasher was the ultimate troubled child. As a white kid raging through Oakland, he found the bliss of escape through every kind of high he could get. Kasher’s biting sense of humor lends a comedic tone to tragic events as he revisits his addictions and academic struggles (including time spent wondering whether he was, in fact, retarded). VERDICT While we’ve all had enough of the recovered-addict memoir, how can you resist a kid who chews through a leash, who explains the experience of having deaf parents as being treated like retarded royalty, and follows up with examples that will have readers nodding in sympathetic agreement? If you’re going to read a recovery memoir, read one by a killer comedian.
McInnes, Gavin. How To Piss in Public: From Teenage Rebellion to the Hangover of Adulthood. Scribner. Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781451614176. $24. MEMOIR
McInnes, founder of an alt-punk zine that eventually morphed into Vice, fills these pages with his less-than-buttoned-down style from start to finish. He starts with his teenage beginnings in the punk band Anal Chinook (Chinook means warm winds in Inuit), fighting (and mostly losing to) skinhead gangs with his fellow band mates, doing massive amounts of drugs, and chasing every girl he lays his eyes on. It’s graphic, vivid, and luridly told. McInnes delights in the obscene and living outside all normative boundaries; while he definitely has a sense of humor, it’s not for everyone. (To put it in perspective, Johnny Knoxville, of Jackass fame, kicked McInnes out of his house.) VERDICT This is shock-value obscene. To readers who don’t find the title the least bit off-putting, this may be readable, but the content goes far beyond the rebellion of the title.

Overton, Margaret. Good in a Crisis: A Memoir.Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Feb. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781608197644. $24. MEMOIR
Working her way through a disastrous divorce, Overton, an anesthesiologist, recounts her attempts to get back on track, to balance her life with her two daughters, heal herself, and dip back into the dating pool. That pool, though, is none too friendly for the freshly wounded. She goes on uncomfortable dates, awkward dates, horrible dates‚ and on one of them, she has a brain aneurysm. From divorce to dating hell to aneurysm, Overton lays out a wry, no-nonsense, battle-weary yet perpetually hopeful guide to life after crisis. And she does eventually find life after divorce, grief, trauma, sickness, and lots of disappointment: it’s possible. VERDICT No one is immune to the fallout from a divorce, whether friends or family. This a divorce book, but a good one.

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