“Congratulations, Who Are You Again?” by Harrison Scott Key

Harrison Scott Key

Reviewed by J.R. Davidson

Harrison Scott Key brought down the West Feliciana Parish [court]house with laughter near the end of his tour promoting The World’s Largest Man.  I was there by myself, having driven the six hours from Birmingham to St. Francisville, Louisiana, for the 2017 Walker Percy Weekend.  I didn’t know anyone going, but serendipitously ran into Mike DeBow, one of my favorite law school professors, at the opening cocktail party.  The party, appropriately called Lost In The Churchyard, was set in the parking lot of Grace Episcopal Church, surrounded by live oaks and ancient wrought iron, and the hosts served a signature (read strong) drink named after one of Percy’s characters.[1]  When I saw Professor DeBow at the same event in June this year, he asked me, “Who was that funny guy that talked last time?  He was on a book tour? I was hoping to see him again.”

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Unfortunately Mr. Key was not there, or if he was we all missed him, because we were all looking.  The question now seems appropriate, having just finished Congratulations, Who Are You Again?  Mr. Key’s sophomore memoir is about writing the first memoir, and the subsequent promotional tour of the first memoir where people asked him who he was, and then stared at him, quizzically wondering why they should read about him.

A memoir about a memoir is a bit like the book version of Inception, the film about a dream within a dream, or sometimes a dreamÙ3, which just gets confusing.  In Mr. Key’s words, “A dream is a beautiful thing, but there’s something motivational speakers don’t tell you: A dream is also a terrifying monster that wants to eat you.”  Congratulations is about pursuing his dream—a dream which changes over time and eventually becomes an American Dream to write something like the Great American Novel, but funnier.  It is touching, insightful, and every bit as funny as the first book.  Okay, I did not laugh as much, or wake up my wife pointing to a line, and insisting that she read it, quite as many times as I did as I read The World’s Largest Man, but Congratulations did make me laugh a lot.

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Mr. Key talks about the joys and sorrows of being on the road in his furious odyssey of shameless self-promotion after years of diligently pushing his dream rock up a hill.  You can feel his guilt and shame in writing when he could (and some would say should) have been spending time with his wife and daughters.  I loved his candid portrayal of cocktail party talk with doctor and lawyer friends in both New Orleans and Savannah, having not much in common with any of them, and wondering why he didn’t want the Boston Whaler and beach house that made everyone else seemingly happy, or at least happy to brag about.

At the 2017 Walker Percy Weekend, the one where I became concerned that the historic and beautiful courthouse was not built for the tent revival level of comic uproar Mr. Key was generating, he began his talk about how he had a great time the night before, but didn’t feel well that morning.  By this time he was taking his wife Lauren on the road.  I mention this because it was a turning point in Congratulations when Mr. Key’s wife and daughters began to travel with him.  Lauren asked, “Well, what all did you drink last night?”  “Oh, I don’t know: a couple beers, a whiskey drink, some weird beer at a Lebanese restaurant, then a couple glasses of wine at someone’s house.”  He said she gave him the look like Red on That 70’s Show that is instantly recognizable as “You dumbass.”

Mr. Key can be forgiven for any overindulgence in St. Francisville.  You need to drink semi-heavily to wash down the heat and sheer volume of crawfish.  I imagine this was the case at many of his book events.  Somewhat unsurprisingly, in this second memoir, Mr. Key’s gregariousness and ready wit are exposed as causes of his success and his problems.  In pursuing his dream of killing people with literary laughter, he physically became like a pelican of the wilderness (see Psalms 102).  If you’ve ever been around a pelican, it can be a squawking and otherwise Weird Bird.  Sometimes it has to drink a lot to choke down all it has bitten off.

You should read Congratulations, Who Are You Again?  And if you haven’t already, or just want the points of reference, you should also read The World’s Largest Man.  Towards the end of the eighth chapter of Congratulations, Mr. Key analogizes writing a funny book to being a pirate or a tribal raider breaking into his own tribe’s sacred place, stealing the golden idols, and melting them down into nuggets of truth.  He has done it here.  My paperback copy is riddled with underlined nuggets.  If it’s possible to write a third memoir, I hope Mr. Key will put Birmingham and St. Francisville back on his list of tour stops.

 

[1] They gave out recipe cards, which I of course lost.  It’s equal parts whiskey and gin, angostura bitters, soda water and ginger beer, and an orange or lime if you like.  Play with it and make one that tastes good.  It’s called the Binx Bolling.

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