“A few months after my pastor asked God to kill me, my mom ran to the bathroom, and I ran after her.” You can’t look away from the riveting opening sentence of Casey Parks’ spellbinding Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir. It draws you quickly in to her atmospheric tale of self-discovery after coming out as a lesbian to her mother in her small Louisiana town.
After Parks came out, her grandmother revealed that she “grew up across the street from a woman who lived as a man” named Roy Hudgins in the town of Delhi, Louisiana. Astonished, Parks asked if Roy was happy, and her grandmother replied that she didn’t know but that she’d always wondered what happened to him. Parks announced to her grandmother, “I’ll find out about Roy.”
Seven years later, Parks, then working as a reporter for The Oregonian, made a series of visits to Delhi in search of clues about Roy, interviewing anybody who would talk to her. Although she was on a quest to find out about Roy for her grandmother, Parks also started to unravel clues about herself, her sexuality and her fraught relationships with family and church. The more she learned about Roy, the more she learned about her own yearning for the love and acceptance that Roy seemed to have felt in a town where the church had rejected him but where his neighbors looked out for and took care of him. Then, as she flipped through Roy’s journals, she discovered a poem titled “The Town Misfit” in which he had written, “When my life on earth is over, and it’s time for me to die, / No one here will miss me. There will be no one to cry.” Parks had hoped “reading Roy’s diaries would settle something inside me. . . . But I understand now that most of what haunted me before might haunt me forever.”
Like Harper Lee, Parks evokes the simmering suspicions of a small Southern town. Like Eudora Welty, she tells a poignant story of people trying to fit into a way of life that once suited them but no longer wears well. And like Truman Capote, she packs her memoir with eccentric characters—especially her mother, whom Parks describes as “bright and joyous when she was off the nose spray, vacant and mean when she was on.” Parks’ dazzling narrative gift imbues Diary of a Misfit with all the makings of a great Southern story that readers won’t be able to get out of their minds.