Part memoir, part journalistic saga. As Casey Parks follows the mystery of a stranger's past, she is forced to reckon with her own sexuality, her fraught Southern identity, her tortured yet loving relationship with her mother, and the complicated role of faith in her life.
.... 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.