CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Lee Maynard's Book, Crum, Leaves Us a Bit Crumbly


By Jack Cawthon 2001

I wish I had read Lee Maynard's book, Crum, when it first was published in 1988. It has been reissued by the University Press in Morgantown, and I only now have finished it and only after talking to Lee at a book signing. There are lots of things I would have liked to ask him about the book.

Lee Maynard replaced me in 1962 as editor of the old West Virginia Conservation magazine. I hadn't known him before then, but we communicated by letters after I came to Morgantown. I helped him to adjust the best I could from the distance of miles that separated us. He kept the magazine going in pretty much the same direction I had and I recognized his brilliance immediately.

I had read some reviews when Crum was first published about how the book had offended the people of the small town and that if Lee ever returned he should be wary of the local resentment as perhaps a rope awaited him.

Now, I wonder if anyone in Crum ever read the book and understood it or whether they were merely going by comments made by others.

I hadn't seen or heard much of Lee over the years, except from a fellow I worked with who had been in journalism with him and who told me that Lee was with Outward Bound out west. Then, one day recently I picked up a Readers Digest and there was a piece by A. Lee Maynard. Son-of-a-gun, another famous person that maybe I hadn't shown enough respect when the opportunity existed. There have been several of those as I usually didn't respect my betters as I should have.

I had heard that Crum had been newly published under the university imprint and when I saw that Lee was scheduled for a book signing in Morgantown I made plans to attend a session.

So, this week Shirley and I caught up with him at the Book Exchange which, incidentally, is owned and operated by Jack Fleming's brother, John. I would have known Lee even with his mountain man beard and well-lined face, but I took him a bit off guard with me, as it should have after almost 40 years and not hearing my name, as I am not a writer, or much else, of note.

The crowd was rather sparse so we had the time to visit but it was over old times as I hadn't yet read his book, which must be frustrating to an author who is there because of it. We spent a good hour on that visit and it was with regrets that I needed to leave to attend an old-folks class and he had other obligations to fulfill.

I finished the book today, and it is troubling. It isn't the sort of book that will be used in the public school library, I fear, as the language might bring the librarian before the board of reckoning faster than one written on evolution.

It is a story of Lee, or his fictional character, growing of age in the small Wayne County village of CruM, which when you look on a map as I did and accept Lee's description that it isn't really near anything, you will find it not far from the Mingo County line near the Tug Fork River and near little else.

Lee's character had a far different upbringing than I experienced in Gilmer County, although the time frame is about the same. I can identify with some of the characters-where were the girls he describes?-but in a much milder form, and I, too, felt that I wanted to leave and shake the dust from my place of birth.

I didn't go far, either in distance or fame and fortune. Lee went about as far as a man can go in this country. He told us about being homeless on the streets of Los Angeles for a time; he now lives in Arizona; and a man who writes frequently for Readers Digest, has a book which may become a movie, has gone exceedingly far both in distance and upward mobility.

Crum is raw from the beginning paragraph: "When I was growing up there, the population of Crum, West Virginia, was 219 human beings, two sub-humans, a few platoons of assorted dogs, at least one cat that I paid any attention to, a retarded mule and a very vivid image of Crash Corrigan…." From there on you may be led down some roads you don't want to travel, but which I know exist, but mostly from reading about them and not from the first-hand knowledge that Lee exhibits.

Which experience is better?

Even if I had the ability I know I could never write of my youthful experiences the way Lee does. There is bitterness, oh, is there ever bitterness, but in the end there is a sadness that we all share when the foolhardiness of young age gives way to the reflections of an old one and we see beauty where disdain and resentment once flourished and, worst of all, we can't go back and capture the long-gone moments. We can only do it through reflection-and reading about it.

Crum certainly causes reflection from those of us who grew up in the hills of West Virginia, even if we didn't share all that Lee has. Maybe we should give thanks that we didn't!

Yes, there is much that I wish I could discuss with Lee. How much is fiction and how much does the book reflect his life? If it left hurts and scars maybe they made him what he has become, although my theory is that genetics will win over environment every time.

Read Crum at your own risk.

Keep in mind the language, the characters, their actions and the way they speak might not be your idea of life in the hills. If you don't like it, well, his character has a favorite expression for you that I won't repeat here.

Lee, old buddy, one question: After all the roaming and some of the gold in California, would you really like to go home again, maybe do it all over again?

EDITORS NOTE: Lee Maynard died June 16 in a VA Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico, following a heart attack and treatment for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was 79.

The book is actually a trilogy that consists of "Crum," "Screaming with the Cannibals" and "The Scummers."

Other works by Maynard include "Magnetic North" (2015), "Cinco Becknell" (2015), and "The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots and Hallucinations in an Imagined Life" (2009)

Not long after "Crum" was published, I spent part of the day in the town, listening to the locals lambast Maynard for his more than colorful descriptions of folks in that neighborhood. Cawthon wondered about Maynard going back to his hometown. If he had, he would be tarred and feathered. - Bob Weaver