.... at once dewy-eyed and diligent, capricious and capacious, empathetic and exacting. It’s as richly textured as a pot of gumbo. As a work of autobiography, it’s maximalist; subtitled A Memoir and a Mystery, it certainly is both of those things, but it’s also an assiduous family history, a decades-spanning community chronicle à la Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, a coming-out narrative, a dive into Christian denominations, a wrestling with Southern heritage. To use a well-worn road metaphor, your mileage may vary ... Most moving is Parks’s depiction of a queer lineage, her assertion of an ancestry of outcasts, a tapestry of fellow misfits into which the marginalized will always, for better or worse, fit. Our selves are so often an assemblage of the stories of those who came before.
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 ... 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.
Putting down this wonderfully sensitive, affecting memoir, I half expected to see wavy fumes — smelling of tobacco, crawfish, beer, rain — rising from the book itself ... It's an odd project with plenty of frustrations, for both Parks and the reader. Is Roy's life, scantily imprinted on any historical record, too obscure, too thin to sustain the narrative? Will Parks ever get her hands on Roy's journals? These, along with recurring questions about Parks' conflicted relationship with her difficult, charismatic, hilarious and opioid-addicted mother, nagged me as I read ... In the end, Parks convinces herself, and us, that there is a broader import in Roy's hard-luck existence in a changing South full of memorable characters. The rich story unfolds as Park goes from Bible- and church-loving young person to gender activist and dogged reporter, and reveals the role that even a fractured family can play on the long path to adulthood.
As [Park] strives to become a better journalist and continues pursuing information about Roy over the course of more than a decade, she begins to face her own past, too, from the heartbreak of losing church once she came out to her tumultuous and complex relationship with her mother. She does so with remarkable empathy for her family members, Roy's acquaintances (even those who abandoned him in his later years), and her own younger self ... Not knowing — not being able to understand or access the full extent of something like Roy's story, her mother's drug use, the truth of her grandmother's stories — can be maddening. But the beauty of Diary of a Misfit is that it sits in that space, allowing Parks to unfold her family's history, her understanding of herself, and her obsession with Roy slowly and methodically ... In the process, she also beautifully portrays her interview subjects in the South and what she both loves and finds painful about home...Parks' book is a wonderful addition to the genre.
... acutely vivid details that will resonate with anyone who’s felt that they don’t fit in... Parks’s facility as a vivid storyteller comes as no surprise. Readers familiar with her work in the and the New York Times Magazine know her as a thoughtful, precise journalist who communicates her characters’ humanity and the stakes of a story through evocative details ... While both narratives are compelling, Parks’s writing shines in the story that she can meticulously report: her own ... Parks is an exceptional chronicler of her family and experience. She leans into the beats of stories she’s expertly honed over the years, like the indelible image of her mother, a pregnant bride, throwing up on the preacher at her wedding. She manages the rare feat of writing about her family with both an awareness of its flaws and a respect for privacy. She chooses revealing anecdotes carefully, alluding to family challenges that aren’t hers to share. A self-described listener, she chronicles her pain at a remove; when she writes about being whipped as a kid, it’s as a detached reporter. Some scenes feel straight out of Mary Karr, but without the raw rancor ... Parks often visits her family in nearby West Monroe, and she weaves together her reporting efforts and her evolving relationship with her mother with grace ... Parks struggles to bring that grace to Hudgins’s story. Some of it is the challenging source material — there are scant memories or details of his life to work with. Yet although she conducts ample historical research, combing through census records and newspaper microfiche, she isn’t comfortable conjuring the setting and conditions of Hudgins’s life. As a reader, I longed for a sense of what his life would have been like ... When Parks finally does get hold of the journals, the reveal is anticlimactic. After years of withholding them, Mark and Cheryl let her read them for a few hours, and she reckons with the quotidian sadness of Hudgins’s life. Clearly she hoped for more. After such a prolonged buildup, I wanted more, too: reflection not from Hudgins but from Parks, who occasionally seems like the reluctant subject of her own memoir ... despite the reveal of his journals, Hudgins’s life remains an incomplete contour. When it comes to his story, Parks raises questions that she ultimately shies away from. But while her commitment to reported detail leaves Hudgins’s story a mystery, it makes Parks’s memoir a compelling triumph.
Parks blends memoir with investigative journalism in this story intertwining the past and present in the small town of Delhi, Louisiana ... Parks’ work of self-investigation is a fascinating, engrossing tale about identity and belonging.
... a work that’s more speculative than investigative and significantly more tragic than mysterious ... What should be a fascinating cross section of Roy’s mystery and Parks’s history is instead a tangled mess of small-town gossip, flawed research, and shallow reporting (bordering on exploitive) from unreliable narrators, including Parks. Parks shares her backstory, attempting to create parallels between Roy and herself as she tackles her own fears about her sexuality, faith, and isolation. Unfortunately, her investigation provides so little evidence of who Roy actually was and who Parks really is, that the final product is more a discursive collection of contradictions and embellishments than true investigative journalism or memoir. The memoir heavily features familial struggles with opioid addiction, narcissism, and poverty ... Less a journey of discovery and more the account of a complicated daughter-mother relationship laden with guilt and neglect.
... [a] tantalizing blend of personal history and reportage ... a brilliantly rendered and complex portrait of Southern life alongside a tender exploration of queer belonging. Parks’s writing is a marvel to witness. (
A remarkable story ... The author sharply recounts the rampant pain, confusion, and prejudice but also effort on the parts of some of those small-town folk to find room for Roy and others who didn’t quite fit in. Along the way, Parks uncovers Southern gothic–worthy secrets on the parts of her family and their community ... Journalism becomes literature in this memorable meditation on identity, belonging, and the urge to find understanding.