King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography

Crutcher, Chris. King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography. 2003. 272pp. Lexile 1180.

Like many of his powerful, popular novels, Chris Crutcher’s autobiography is funny and poignant.  He writes in a conversational tone about growing up in a small town in Idaho.   Despite the town’s macho atmosphere, he failed to toughen up or get good at sports.  Without bitterness, Crutcher reveals some of his family’s problems including his mother’s drinking and his father’s demanding nature.  The anecdotes and themes show the roots of some of his novels.  For example, he struggled with a bad temper, a trait that recurs in his fictional protagonists.  Near the end, Crutcher talks about his work as a therapist with abused kids and describes how he became a writer.  He also addresses why he uses expletives in his novels as part of his goal of showing life as he knows it, not an idealized version.  This is a pleasure to read, especially for Crutcher fans.

Reading Std #8: Delineate and evaluate argument and specific claims in a text, assessing reasoning and evidence.  Crutcher’s books are often challenged in schools and sometimes removed from the curriculum or library shelves because of their use of expletives.  Have students consider Crutcher’s argument for including strong language and the broader question of removing books.  A debate format would work well for this topic.

Fiction tie-in:  While any of his novels would pair well with this autobiography, The Sledding Hill especially lends itself to the discussion of banned books.  Crutcher appears in the novel as the author of a book that some want removed from the school library.  The Sledding Hill also ties in to the autobiography's chapter, ""Dead Boy Sledding; or, Why Things Happen," about a friend of Crutcher's who died during his childhood.