The World's Largest Man: A Memoir
Harrison Scott Key
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The riotous, tender story of a bookish Mississippi boy and his flawed, Bunyanesque father, told with the comic verve of David Sedaris and the deft satire of Mark Twain or Roy Blount, Jr.
Harrison Scott Key was born in Memphis, but he grew up in Mississippi, among pious, Bible-reading women and men who either shot things or got women pregnant. At the center of his world was his larger-than-life father—a hunter, a fighter, a football coach, “a man better suited to living in a remote frontier wilderness of the nineteenth century than contemporary America, with all its progressive ideas, and paved roads, and lack of armed duels. He was a great man, and he taught me many things: How to fight, how to work, how to cheat, how to pray to Jesus about it, how to kill things with guns and knives and, if necessary, with hammers.”
Harrison, with his love of books and excessive interest in hugging, couldn’t have been less like Pop, and when it became clear that he was not able to kill anything very well or otherwise make his father happy, he resolved to become everything his father was not: an actor, a Presbyterian, and a doctor of philosophy. But when it was time to settle down and start a family of his own, Harrison started to view his father in a new light, and realized—for better and for worse—how much of his old man he’d absorbed.
Sly, heartfelt, and tirelessly hilarious, The World’s Largest Man is an unforgettable memoir—the story of a boy’s struggle to reconcile himself with an impossibly outsized role model, a grown man’s reckoning with the father it took him a lifetime to understand.
export of Bolivia. I loved those encyclopedias, the closest thing we had to the Internet, despite our not knowing what the Internet was. The World Book was our rabbit hole into the world of ideas, and I am grateful to Mom for convincing Pop to take out a second mortgage to buy them, which is likely what he had to do, given their size and weight and gold-leaf pages. The lot of them must’ve weighed as much as the gun cabinet, and their prominence in our living room meant a great deal to Mom, and
that anybody named after a body part could probably shoot any sort of gun he wanted. In the front seat, Pop and Bird strategized about the day’s hunt, while I attempted to sleep. “I believe you may get one today,” Pop said to me. The probability was high. It was Doe Day again, the annual day when I was statistically most likely to disappoint my father, and Pop expected fewer hunters in the woods today, even the grizzled musketeers who lived on the land. He didn’t say why. Perhaps there was a
did. She loved the volcano, saw through his magma to something hurting underneath it. She did not run from the gaping maw, but stood there on its rim and cooked it a pan of cornbread, which the volcano liked very much, and helped calm it down. Nevertheless, the volcano had no money for new Sunday dresses for her, because of all the spending on football, and so she came up with a plan, which was to tutor local children for extra money in the afternoons at our dining room table, which meant the
had already started trying to get my parents to move to Savannah. Maybe even to this neighborhood, if we stayed. How fun it would be, where my mother could be near her grandchildren and Pop could say fun things to my wife’s friends about their thighs. But I could not move them here, not to this. “We have to move,” I said to my wife. There were a few more Jimmy Crack Corns in the neighborhood already, and more coming. The writing was on the wall. It was a shame. Such a nice little house. Maybe
school, they were stranger at home. For one, my toys began to vanish. The stuffed animals, the Hot Wheels, the Darth Vader Carry Case with its army of figurines. I searched the house for these items, but casually, as though I were dusting. For every toy that disappeared, Pop was close behind with something that had recently been bleeding. A duck here, a fish there, the head of a noble whitetail extending from the wall as though stuck between this and some happier dimension. Soon, there was a new