No offense intended toward its residents (the vast majority of those I’ve met have been delightful), but as a general rule*, but I visit the South (meaning here the deep South, east of Texas) only in books or recipes, leaving the living there to souls braver and sturdier than I. I dislike heat, humidity, large flying insects, large crawling insects, the prospect of encountering reptiles capable of swallowing me or my limbs whole, swamps, Confederate flags, and okra.
However, I do like tales of swamp adventurers, almost anything fried, stories about terrifying fauna and rare flora, regional idioms, and the idea of warm weather in the winter.
This is why reading about the South is so enjoyable: all of the interest, none of the sweat. And I tend to read nonfiction about the region: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Orchid Thief (original, I know). And now After a While You Just Get Used to It: A Tale of Family Clutter** by Gwendolyn Knapp. Strictly speaking, this memoir isn’t about Florida, where Ms. Knapp grew up, or New Orleans, where she now lives and works, but her writing is so evocative of place that I could practically feel the boggy heat blowing through the window.
Ms. Knapp’s world is populated by colorful characters, many of them her own family members, including her mother, Margie, who can’t stop accumulating stuff; her Aunt Susie, an addict with a good-for-nothing boyfriend; and her sister Molly, who can’t wait to escape their house. There is all sorts of drama of the holiday, funeral, dating, and interstate-move variety, framed in Ms. Knapp’s observant and wry voice.
The book is a series of chronologically ordered vignettes, often jumping quite a few years in time, which makes for easily digestible, fast-paced reading, if an incomplete picture of the author’s life. After a While You Just Get Used to It, as its title suggests, tends toward the matter-of-fact acceptance of the way things are, even if the way things are is a pretty horrible state of affairs. It’s Southern Gothic as life-writing, essentially.
While mostly I cringed for Gwendolyn as she deals with her family, her own health problems, difficult jobs, and a series of unfortunate boyfriends, I also laughed. I’m glad Ms. Knapp is inviting readers to visit her world.
*I have made exceptions for one beach, several airports, and one wedding (worth it, J & P!)
** I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.