Stuff by John Crawley: a Review by @stephenwoodfin
August 16, 2012
I have known John Crawley since we were childhood friends growing up in Kilgore, Texas. One of the unique things about our friendship is that now we share a love for this crazy thing called writing. Neither of us knew the other had developed this passion until a few years ago when we ran across one another again.
In Stuff, Crawley places a man in the middle of a fire where he has to make split second decisions about the things that matter to him. Those of you who are familiar with Texas realize that a real-life situation analogous to the one Crawley describes in his book occurred in the town of Bastrop, not far from Austin, in the summer of 2011.
About a month ago, I drove from Austin to Houston and happened through Bastrop, where I saw black bands of burnt trees, grim reminders of a wildfire that swept whole sections of the town into hell.
In June 2011, my wife and I spent a week in Santa Fe while our youngest daughter attended a conference at St. Johns College. That week coincided with the Los Alamos fire, the most destructive wild fire in New Mexico history. We could see the plumes of smoke to the northwest and spoke with many Los Alamos evacuees at the hotel. In the mornings, we would find our car covered in ashes and smell the ever-present smoke.
What does a person salvage when he has one hour before his home disappears? The pictures on the mantel? The collector hot-rod in the garage? The neighbor next door? The neighbor’s wife? Does he succumb to his lower nature and raid the abandoned houses? Does he tap into his higher personhood and lay his life on the line for people he hardly knows?
Does the fire deal a final death stroke to a life on the ropes, or does it breathe life into a weary soul?
Crawley is a master of misdirection. I have learned now after reading some of his work that it ain’t over until it’s over. And a Crawley story is never over until the last sentence of the last paragraph.
Justice is one of those things that looks different to each set of eyes. It is something we are willing to stake our lives on, or at least something on which we are willing to stake our neighbors’ lives.
In Stuff, the fire is not as important as its aftermath. For it is only then that we see what people are capable of doing to one another, how they choose to reconstitute the stuff of their lives.
Sometimes it is the stuff you throw away that tells the tale.