Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Andrew Hudgins’ "The Joker"

Andrew Hudgins was born a military brat in Fort Hood, Texas, in 1951, moving to New Mexico, Ohio, and England before elementary school in North Carolina and California. His family lived for one year outside Paris before his father was transferred to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1966, the year after the Selma-to-Montgomery march. He has attended Huntingdon College, the University of Alabama, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Stanford University. His poetry has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and teaches at The Ohio State University.

Hudgins applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Joker: A Memoir, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Joker, I tell my father, a devout believer, that I don’t want to attend Ridgecrest Baptist Church with the family anymore. I’m 18, a college student living at home and working at a dry goods wholesaler in the afternoon so I can afford to go to college in the mornings. If Dad throws me out of the house, I’m going to have to drop out of college and get a fulltime job. But if he gives me an ultimatum—“Either go to church or get out of my house”—I’ll capitulate and sullenly consider church just another job that pays for college. To my surprise, he appears to acquiesce. “No one is going to make you go to church if you don’t want to.” As a believer who’d lost his first child, a daughter named Andrea in a car accident when she was eighteen months old, he must have known the vicissitudes of doubt and faith.

But my mother, who always seemed to take church with a grain of salt, bolts across the room, screaming. Who did I think I was? Just because I was going to college didn’t mean I was a smarty-pants intellectual who could just up and decide in her house that he didn’t believe in God.

I stand before her open mouthed, unable to think go anything to say.

The scene gives a sense of one aspect of my family, but because there are no jokes, page 99 is not a true reflection of the book as a whole. The Joker is a memoir about being a compulsive joke teller. It’s funny, but it’s also a meditation on how jokes work and how my love of laugher grew out of my desire for relief from the somberness of my parents’ grief for Andrea, whose life they kept a secret from my brothers and me.
Learn more about The Joker, and follow Andrew Hudgins on Facebook.

Writers Read: Andrew Hudgins (March 2009).

Writers Read: Andrew Hudgins.

--Marshal Zeringue