Subtitled “A Writer’s Journey Home,” Mark Richard’s memoir, House of Prayer No. 2, tells of his “special child” young life and then his bohemian and indigent adolescence which spiraled into his adulthood, and the whole recollection by him pin balls between unbelievable sadness, then laughter, and then questions [from me] “does this guy ever have a day off from adventure?”
Man, what a life he has lived ... and his memoir covers it in a unique way ... in such a way that I could not put the work down.
My friend Marilyn loaned me this book because Mark grew up near her in a small town in Virginia, and he and she knew some of the same people; actually, she knew some of them really well, but this blog is not about Marilyn and her "wild" friends.
After I completed the memoir, I called her and told her that “I loved the book, but really, Marilyn, can that many things happen to one person?”
Marilyn replied, “I dunno, but I do remember him fairly well from Nags Head; let's just say, he was a pretty wild man.”
Operative word here: Wild. Beyond wild.
Calling Richard a “wild” man is quite the understatement. He lived the boisterous boyhood reminiscent of the late 1950s and early 1960s in a town where there was little to do other than get in trouble. He came to manhood in the free-wheeling seventies, where drug use and alcohol consumption became a rite of passage for him.
What grabbed me about his memoir is Richard’s narrative approach. Not only were there these brilliant images overlapping one another, but he also manages to do that with his memories. The words, images, personal scraps and fragments of his memory, and his reminiscences stack up on top of one another -- and propels the reader forward down the same track as Richard.
As I read about him and his "infirmity" and his escapades with his friends, I couldn’t catch my breath before some other event, circumstance, catastrophe or turn of fate takes me somewhere else in his life. Reading this work was like being spun from one place to another without ever hitting stop... and it's not like I ever wanted Richard to stop. Pause, maybe, but stop? No.
In the modern memoir, and fiction as well, writers seem to have forgotten the use of the quotation mark; Richard adds his own twist by inserting “you” into the rightful place of “I.” That approach , interesting enough, makes the book somehow more personal, as if that makes sense.
In this, for example, Richards recalls his best friend’s father that he called “The Preacher’ and how “ his wife Janet, are like your other parents, you being the fifth brother to the four sons they already have. The Preacher never holds it against any of you for being boys prone to mischief. When you and David pin some children down in a garage, shooting them in their butts with David’s new BB gun, The Preacher comes home to where you and David are sitting on the porch and quietly asks to see the rifle that he calmly wraps around a tree in the yard before going in to dinner. The Preacher says he did not believe in the concept of Original Sin until he had children.”
BTW: I guffawed at his Original Sin comment.
Richard begins the memoir with the memories of his childhood affliction, of which I am not quite sure what is was, some problem with his hips, that got him labeled “special.” This disability gets him sent to the Crippled Children’s Hospital where his vivid recollections of treatments and therapy, some of which seemingly border on abuse in the modern sense -- in his day and age -- perhaps experimental?
At one point, Richard tells of a patient there who “you see all the years of scars up and down his legs and you begin to realize that [he] will never go home, that this is his home, he lives at Crippled Children’s Hospital.”
Interesting enough, there is no “why me?’ from Richard -- he just presents his childhood as his and moves on to the continuing colorful narrative of his misspent youth and adulthood where he relays story after story of how “no one will lead you down a slippery path faster than your best friends.”
And then the book becomes adventure after adventure, opportunity after opportunity, and where he meets men and women who will later be influential in his becoming a writer. The real surprise of his narrative will be how the title of his memoir comes into play in his life… a surprise as well as one of those “yes” moments.
The memoir is a great read for those of us who grew up in the same time as he did -- I’m not sure how the generation who raised us would feel about it or even the generation we parented would feel about it either.
Richard, so far, has had a pretty, full life --- I will be curious to see of where he goes from here.
He readily admits toward the end of this work that “The problem for you is that, like your favorite writer, Flannery O’Connor, you believe the biggest threat to your soul is you.”
Mark Richard brings new meaning to "write what you know." This guy knows some stuff.