Paul Crenshaw grew up in Logan County, Arkansas. It was not an idyllic childhood, and it failed to evolve into either a comfortable adolescence or an easy adulthood. Punctuated by disasters, Crenshaw’s life is full of material. From a young age, Crenshaw witnessed violence and poverty. He endured ferocious tornadoes and iron-cold winters. His rural hometown has been poisoned by the meth crisis, and he has mourned the deaths of family and friends. Crenshaw has also seen boundless generosity, enduring love and fearsome beauty. In This One Will Hurt You, Crenshaw transforms these episodes into a collection of hard-hitting essays that leave the reader in no doubt that he is a writer of considerable talent.
Autobiographical essays are difficult to write successfully. It is painful to recount past hurts, and the temptation to avoid that pain by offering comforting platitudes can mar an otherwise admirable piece of writing. However, Crenshaw, a 2017 recipient of the prestigious Pushcart Prize, writes honestly, luminously and unsparingly. The opening essay, “After the Ice,” examines with almost superhuman objectivity the traumatic impact of the murder of Crenshaw’s baby nephew. “In Storm Country” reveals the vicious beauty of the countless tornadoes Crenshaw experienced as a child. The titular closing essay is about the death of yet another innocent, and as its title promises, it is a painful read. In between, there are tales of wonder, humor, sorrow and awe—all of them told by a clear-eyed writer who refuses to flinch from the truth.
These essays are written with poetic stoicism. Paradoxically, this is precisely this quality that makes Crenshaw’s essays powerfully redemptive. Like the tornadoes he describes, This One Will Hurt You reveals that it is the harshness of life that creates its beauty and gives it meaning.