Once in a while, a book comes along that redefines the concept of family. Frank McCourt did it with Angela's Ashes; Annie Dillard did it with An American Childhood . In Nobody Rich or Famous , author Richard Shelton (b. 1933) immerses us in the hardscrabble lives of his Boise, Idaho, clan during the 1930s and '40s. Using a framework of journals, road trips, and artful storytelling, Shelton traces three generations of women. We meet his mother, Hazel, a model of western respectability, who carefully dresses in her finest clothes before walking into a bar and emptying a loaded handgun in the general direction of her husband. We meet his great-grandmother, Josephine, who homesteads a sod shanty and dies too young on the Kansas prairie. We follow his grandmother, Charlotte, as she grows from a live-in servant girl to a fiddle-playing schoolteacher who burns through two marriages before taking up with the iceman. Kwn for his storytelling, Shelton crafts a tale of poverty and its attendant sorrows: alcoholism, neglect, and abuse. But the tenacity of the human spirit shines through. This is an epic tale of Steinbeckian proportions, but it is t fiction. This is memoir in its finest tradition, illuminating today's cultural chasm between the haves and have-ts. In the author's words, Nobody Rich or Famous is the story of a family and how it got that way.
Richard Shelton is a poet, author, and Regents Professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. He is the author of eleven books of poetry and the award-winning memoirs Going Back to Bisbee and Crossing the Yard.