SMU LitFest 2014 is March 18-22nd and many amazing authors will be coming to town for the festivities. Tim Parrish will be among those who visit. He will be reading from his book Fear + What Follows at 6:30 on Friday night with a reception at 6pm. I am very excited about this and you should be too. Fear + What Follows is not any other book about individuals struggling with desegregation during the 1960s and 70s. The characters aren’t fictional, nor are they defined as good guys or bad guys because of their views on desegregation. Tim Parrish has written a memoir about his own life’s journey and the characters aren’t black and white. They can’t be, they’re his parents and siblings.
The memoir recounts the makings of and eventual redemption of a white, Christian racist. Parrish grew up with a deeply racist father and moderate mother. Parrish’s father presents us with a complex and at times contradictory nature that confuses Parrish as a boy. We never quite understand what makes him proud of his sons or disappointed in them. As a young boy, Parrish’s mother teaches him to think for himself, which leads him to support black integration into his church at a church vote, but a series of unfortunate and life-threatening events leads him to believe that in order to be considered a man in society, he must be violent. As Parrish spirals deeper and deeper into his hateful state, the author cranks up the tension and ignites fear in the reader as well. But while young Parrish is driven to do dark things because he is afraid, we are frightened at how the young boy transforms into hate itself. It is a terrifying, gut-wrenching experience and Parrish never lets us look away. The pace of the memoir never slows, even when Parrish begins to take a turn for improvement.
The memoir doesn’t sugarcoat anything about living life in Baton Rouge. It doesn’t emphasize the shocking, violent, and foreign experiences that one lives through, either. Parrish is sure to give us a completely honest picture of the life he lived and while it alienates his readers at times, he doesn’t seem to care. His purpose is not to make life relatable, to excuse the opinions and actions of the people in his book. Every scene that may at first look run-of-the-mill to us seems to be tainted with violence or hatred. But the most troubling thought is how seamlessly the two are joined together. Parrish’s struggle to overcome his mangled psyche is made that much harder because of how deeply hatred is engrained in the society in which he lives.