Review: Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums

Sessums’ memoir is beautifully – and painfully- honest. He describes his experiences as an effeminate homosexual boy, youth, and teenager in rural Mississippi, in a time and place where it was more popular to applaud the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King Jr. than it was to express sadness over their losses. Sessums loses both his parents when just a young boy, left to be raised by grandparents who don’t quite know what to make of him but who, nonetheless, seem to love and care for them as best they can. Sessums doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with his siblings, possibly because he found it necessary to escape the close ties of “family” when both of his parents died (easier to distance oneself than to lose another). Still, Sessums is unable to escape further heartache with the loss of his two other parental figures, Jack (the older, educated, drama instructor and writer with a preference for “darker” boys, which is ultimately the source of his demise) and Matty (the mysterious cotton-picking maid, friend of Kevin’s mother, whose mental imbalance is hinted at earlier on than the reader might have realized). This story is brilliant in its unflinching honesty, its attempt at believable memory, and it’s refusal to condemn those ‘characters’ who had wronged or pained the narrator and author. A worthwhile read, also, for its inclusion of the inner-workings of the literary and artistic circles of the likes of Eudora Welty. Well written, moving, and terrifying.

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