Book Review: Little Boy Blues

A critic for Newsweek, Jones recalls his childhood in North Carolina and the emotional trauma inflicted on him by his parents.

Carmen Ulloa

Vintage books recently released “Little Boy Blues,” written by Malcolm Jones. The book cover presents a picture of a little boy sitting on a chair, smoking a big pipe with a newspaper in hand while hiding his eyes behind large reading glasses. The picture is a statement itself: A boy in an adult world.

As soon as the book begins, the reader evokes those emotions that are far buried in our childhood years: fear of others and the need of acceptance. It doesn’t take too many pages for those emotions to surface again.

Malcolm Jones, a Newsweek staff writer and author, delivers through his clear, simple and direct writing a picture of a Southern family in the 1950s and 1960s. The picture is colored with racial segregation, prejudices, strong and judgmental religious beliefs, and lack of tolerance. A general portrait of a society struggling to adjust while going through a transition from the last century into the next.

Jones invites the reader to watch a show of marionettes in which the dolls – his mother, his father, his relatives and himself – are pulled by the strings of circumstances, society principles, and fate. The marionettes react naturally according to their wounded, hurt and weightless bodies.

His book welcomes the reader to a home that is pulled by strong forces in different directions. An alcoholic father that rules through his unpredictable behavior acting as a gravitational and problematic center. A wife who strives for control without realizing she is just a planet that revolves around that center. A conventional mother who ends up pushing away those she loves most by trying to follow the “shoulds” instead of dealing with reality. And a child, Malcolm, who does not know what his position is in that universe.

Jones explicitly portraits the inverted dynamics that go on in dysfunctional homes. A child is hosted by an “adult world” that is absolutely new, foreign, incomprehensible and overwhelming. The child is usually left to cope and survive in it. As a result, the child matures rapidly and ends up being an adult living in the body and circumstances of a child.

The author places the reader in the mind and heart of the child by using clear and vivid memories to illustrate his past. Jones’ writing is full of emotions: fear, anxiety, helplessness, and guilt. As he grows, he develops a radar that catches and interprets the feelings of those around him. He learns to display the most suitable behavior for the unexpected ” weather changes” at home.

Jones provides photos of the characters and maps that contribute to the reader’s imagination.

“Little Boy Blues” is highly sensitive and sensible, accurately descriptive, subtly funny, touching and revealing. The book is inspirational and therapeutic without intending to be.

The author’s analogies are strong and vivid. Reading him is finding the correct words to identify some of our childhood traumas and experiences that we box without a tag in the corner of our minds and are only retrieved by readings such as this.

Veterans Education & The author of “Little Boy Blues,” Malcolm Jones, Newsweek magazine staff writer, shared some insights with the Lariat regarding his recently launched memoir.

His book gives abundant details of his childhood. Memories that he admits were just retrieved from his mind and not through any written record.

“I did not keep a journal. I organized the book around what I did remember,” Jones said.

There are some stories that stuck in his brain like a photograph and he is able to remember them clearly and vividly. “Memories breed memories” he said.

This allows him to relate events and dialogues that he hadn’t thought of in years and would have probably not remember if they hadn’t been retrieved with his writing.

The story portraits his relationship with his mother and her way of coping with her circumstances. His father’s presence, though determinant, is less frequent.

“It was easy to remember what my father said because he said so little” Jones said half jokingly. “His words remind me of someone who said that the best comedy is tragedy itself.”

His words are profound and his style is simple. He is relating life as it was under the eyes of a boy and his writing is full of wisdom.

“One of the hardest thing’s about growing up is reconciling disagreeable or hateful things about people you love with what you do love about them,” Jones said. “No one prepares you for this. You have to work it out for yourself.”

As conflicts reach a climax in the story so do the issues of every member. At a point he is given a burden that he says he was proud of being given.

However, looking back he says, he feels pity for those grownups in the story for they have no claim on wisdom. Children look up to adults and trust they have the right answers and present their best behavior, because that is what parents are supposed to do. But in reality adults end up being only older but dealing with themselves as toddlers.

Maturing faster than other children did not affect his adulthood, though he admits that the worst fallout from his childhood was his reflexive ability to distance himself from other people “sort of like Charlie Brown and the football in reverse,” hesaid with humor.

Despite of people’s observation of patterns and the aid of books, many continue to repeat the same mistakes their parents made or the ones around them.

When asked to provide an advice for those parents who refuse to let go of their grown up sons and wish to hold tight to the past, Malcolm says humbly: “I have little wisdom on this one. Maybe the only thing I can say is that as a parent, you should know this day is coming and you should try as hard as you can not to take it personally”.

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