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Farther Off from Heaven

by William Humphrey

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1411,092,505 (3.5)1
William Humphrey's acclaimed memoir is a richly detailed portrait of small-town Texas and a poignant account of the tragedy that shaped the author's life At three o'clock in the morning on July 5, 1937, William Humphrey awoke to his mother's urgent cry: "Get dressed as quick as you can! Your daddy has been hurt." Rushing to the doctor's office, mother and son arrived to find Clarence Humphrey battered beyond recognition: his chest crushed, his face bruised black and caked with blood, his teeth shattered. He soon drew his final breath. In that terrible moment, thirteen-year-old William knew that nothing would ever be the same again: "I felt slip from me in that moment not only the certainty of my future but the fixity of my past. It was as if I had been wakened out of my childhood." He moved with his mother to Dallas soon after, and although he set his classic novels, Home from the Hill and The Ordways, in his hometown of Clarksville, he would not return for thirty-two years. A masterpiece of autobiography, Farther Off from Heaven is the fiercely honest, exquisitely crafted story of William Humphrey's childhood and the sudden end of his innocence. This ebook features an illustrated biography of William Humphrey including rare photos from the author's estate.… (more)

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William Humprhey's best known novel was HOME FROM THE HILL, a book and a film that made a lasting impression on me fifty years ago. I saw the film first, with its sterling cast of Robert Mitchum, Eleanor Parker, and the two Georges: Hamilton and Peppard, as young Theron Hunnicutt and his bastard half-brother Rafe, respectively. The film was so damn good I went right out and bought the paperback edition of the book. I was probably only 18 or 19 at the time, but it established a pattern that stayed with me, and I learned something. If the movie was that good, the book is probably better.

I read a couple of other Humphrey books, but HOME FROM THE HILL was always his best in my estimation. So I thought it would be interesting to read his memoir, even if I'd waited 35 years after its publication. FARTHER OFF FROM HEAVEN was something of a disappointment in that it only dealt with Humphrey's life up until age 13, which was the year his father - a fighting, drinking hell-raising shade-tree mechanic - was killed in a gruesome auto accident. The bulk of the narrative is mostly about that lost father, and all that Humphrey had been able to rmember and find out about him. Young Billy Humphrey claims he buried his childhood on the day his father was buried. Soon after he and his mother moved from his childhood home of Clarksville, and he didn't return for over thirty years. Besides being a family history of the Humphreys, FARTHER OFF FROM HEAVEN is also a respectful paean to the town of Clarksville as it was back in the 1920s and 1930s. It fact the book seemed more about Humphrey's parents and the town and the Red River region than it was about the author himself. The details about the Big Sulphur Bottom swamp, that figured so prominently in HOME FROM THE HILL, were interesting. I guess I just would have liked more about the man himself, and certainly SOMEthing about the rest of his life after the age of thirteen. Humphrey (who died in 1997) was, after all, over fifty when he published this autobiography in 1977.

Ironically, one my favorite books to come out of that region of Texas, William A. Owens' THIS STUBBORN SOIL, was highly praised by Humphrey himself, who called it "one of the best of all memoirs of childhood." And it was. Perhaps Humphrey's own life just wasn't quite as interesting. The Owens book I recommend highly; the Humphrey one, not so much. ( )
  TimBazzett | Sep 16, 2012 |
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