When award-winning poet Shane McCrae was born to a white mother and a Black father in Oregon in 1975, his maternal grandmother designated him “white” on his birth certificate, claiming it was because she wanted him to have “all the advantages.” However, when she and her husband kidnapped him from his parents and brought him to Texas three years later, the 13 years McCrae spent with them were filled with anything but.
Pulling the Chariot of the Sun: A Memoir of a Kidnapping is more than the memoir of an abduction: It is a story about how racial identity is shaped by both presence and absence in a child’s life. McCrae explores memory itself and what happens when violence and deception warp the brain’s ability to maintain clear distinctions between fact and fantasy.
In chapters that read more like vignettes than chronological narratives, McCrae traces his journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Southwest and back again; narrates the complicated relationships between his mother and her parents; and mourns the absence of a father whom his grandparents attempted to erase from his life in every way possible. Throughout, McCrae undertakes in prose the age-old bard’s task: to lend a voice to—and by extension, make sense of—the inconceivable, even as the admitted gaps in his own memory work against meaning, resolution and wholeness.
Pulling the Chariot of the Sun wrestles with the brain’s unreliability in the wake of trauma, as well as the reality that, regardless of who raised us, few of the stories we inherit about ourselves are accurate. McCrae’s work becomes less about arriving at any irrefutable conclusion and rather about reaching a point where we are willing to concede the impossibility of truth, even as we continue to reconstruct all we know in an attempt to get as close as we can.