The Korea Herald


From happiness to unimaginable despair

By Korea Herald

Published : April 6, 2012 - 18:15

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Burn Down the Ground

By Kambri Crews (Villard)

Kambri Crews’ debut memoir, “Burn Down the Ground,” places her firmly in the company of family-dysfunction specialists such as Augusten Burroughs, Jeannette Walls and, especially, Mary Karr, whose 1995 best-seller “The Liars’ Club” set the bar for tales of dirt-poor Southeast Texas upbringings.

The biting humor of “Burn Down the Ground,” along with the author’s smooth, natural storytelling, reflect her adult years ― she’s been an actress, owns her own PR and production company, and is the comedy booker for 92YTribeca. She knows how to take even the most dire material and wring out of it a rueful chuckle. The child of deaf parents, she notes early in the book, “You know you talk a lot when your deaf family nicknames you ‘Motor Mouth.’”

The book’s title refers to the tradition of burning the brush and deadwood on long-neglected land: You have to destroy the past to give birth to something new. It’s an action, both literal and metaphorical, that her family takes repeatedly.

Young Kambri keeps herself busy with early entrepreneurial projects such as starting her own lending library. “While such a nerdy endeavor might elicit taunts from kids in other neighborhoods, the children on Boars Head greeted my enterprise like I was the ice cream man. They were equally bored and isolated, after all. This was no child’s play; even my parents were frequent patrons. ... My mother preferred books like A Separate Peace.”

Peace was something her mother craved, living with Kambri’s frustrated, chronically unemployed and oft-violent father. The book’s narrative toggles between her childhood and her visits to him in a Texas prison, where he’s serving a 20-year-sentence for attempted murder in the stabbing and near-decapitation of his girlfriend after divorcing Crews’ mother.

Crews’ childhood careens from near-normalcy and happiness, as when her parents scrape together a few hundred dollars to buy her a horse, to unimaginable deprivation: When the family’s house trailer is repossessed, the horse has to vacate its tin shack so the family can move in.

“Dad divided the shed in half lengthwise with plasterboard walls. One side was turned into a kitchen with a small living room, where Mom and Dad could sleep on one of our two maroon hide-a-bed sofas. The other side served as a bedroom for (her brother) David and me.”

Toward the end of the book, Crews and her mother move to North Central Texas and into a substantially more stable life. Crews finishes up the book with recollections of her move to New York City. At a comedy show, she meets Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban. He likes her group and takes them on a club tour.

She describes it with typical humor, naivete-tinged verve ― and one heck of a punch line.

“As we walked into one nightclub, Mark sailed past the maitre d’ without checking in. ‘You’re not allowed to do that,’ I said playfully. He patted my hand with a sly grin and whispered in my ear, ‘Kambri, when you live in my world, you can do anything you want.’ I could get used to a world like this.

“That same night, 1,542 miles away, Dad was stabbing Helen.” (MCT)