From Natalia Rachel Singer, author of Scraping by in the Big Eighties, American Lives Series, 2004:

“In a mosaic of beautifully crafted lyric essays about a childhood on the road, Dorothy Ellis Barnett takes us to the riverbeds and campgrounds of the East Texas pine woods and Southern California trailer courts, across highways and blacktops, and the Formica tabletops where her adopted father, Kenneth, teaches her to flip dominoes and count cards before she is eight years old.  Her portraits of her gambling father, Kenneth and her hard-drinking, emotionally distant mother, Laura, are riveting and arresting, the prose painstakingly honest but often tender and loving.  Without self-pity or bitterness, Barnett evokes a childhood of bologna and yellow-orange cheese sandwiches (some of which she shares with wild stray dogs), dinners of canned beans cooked on campfire stoves, and stretches of time when one chocolate bar in the morning is the only food of the day, while also rendering her youthful longings for normalcy—life in a real house, with parents who don’t fight, and a school to attend—as not only the counterpoint to poverty and loneliness but as the vehicle that ultimately allows her imagination to take flight.  This mosaic of vignettes and fragments forms an elegiac, deeply moving memoir about an early childhood spent adrift that is also about the resilience and dignity of the observant self that records the fierce beauty and poetry in what persists—phlox, sagebrush, moonlight, river water—even in the face of suffering and loss.”


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