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The World's Largest Man

Cover of The World's Largest Man

The World's Largest Man

A Memoir

Winner of the 2016 Thurber Prize

The riotous, tender story of a bookish Mississippi boy and his flawed, Bunyanesque father, told with the comic verve of David Sedaris and the deft satire of Mark Twain or Roy Blount, Jr.

Harrison Scott Key was born in Memphis, but he grew up in Mississippi, among pious, Bible-reading women and men who either shot things or got women pregnant. At the center of his world was his larger-than-life father—a hunter, a fighter, a football coach, "a man better suited to living in a remote frontier wilderness of the nineteenth century than contemporary America, with all its progressive ideas, and paved roads, and lack of armed duels. He was a great man, and he taught me many things: How to fight, how to work, how to cheat, how to pray to Jesus about it, how to kill things with guns and knives and, if necessary, with hammers."

Harrison, with his love of books and excessive interest in hugging, couldn't have been less like Pop, and when it became clear that he was not able to kill anything very well or otherwise make his father happy, he resolved to become everything his father was not: an actor, a Presbyterian, and a doctor of philosophy. But when it was time to settle down and start a family of his own, Harrison started to view his father in a new light, and realized—for better and for worse—how much of his old man he'd absorbed.

Sly, heartfelt, and tirelessly hilarious, The World's Largest Man is an unforgettable memoir—the story of a boy's struggle to reconcile himself with an impossibly outsized role model, a grown man's reckoning with the father it took him a lifetime to understand.

Winner of the 2016 Thurber Prize

The riotous, tender story of a bookish Mississippi boy and his flawed, Bunyanesque father, told with the comic verve of David Sedaris and the deft satire of Mark Twain or Roy Blount, Jr.

Harrison Scott Key was born in Memphis, but he grew up in Mississippi, among pious, Bible-reading women and men who either shot things or got women pregnant. At the center of his world was his larger-than-life father—a hunter, a fighter, a football coach, "a man better suited to living in a remote frontier wilderness of the nineteenth century than contemporary America, with all its progressive ideas, and paved roads, and lack of armed duels. He was a great man, and he taught me many things: How to fight, how to work, how to cheat, how to pray to Jesus about it, how to kill things with guns and knives and, if necessary, with hammers."

Harrison, with his love of books and excessive interest in hugging, couldn't have been less like Pop, and when it became clear that he was not able to kill anything very well or otherwise make his father happy, he resolved to become everything his father was not: an actor, a Presbyterian, and a doctor of philosophy. But when it was time to settle down and start a family of his own, Harrison started to view his father in a new light, and realized—for better and for worse—how much of his old man he'd absorbed.

Sly, heartfelt, and tirelessly hilarious, The World's Largest Man is an unforgettable memoir—the story of a boy's struggle to reconcile himself with an impossibly outsized role model, a grown man's reckoning with the father it took him a lifetime to understand.

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About the Author-
  • Harrison Scott Key is a contributing editor for the Oxford American and a professor of writing at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, where he lives with his wife and three children. His humor and nonfiction have been featured in The Best American Travel Writing and numerous magazines.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 29, 2015
    Humorist Key was born in Memphis, but when he was six, his father moved the family back to his native Mississippi—a state, according to Key, that's "too impoverished to afford punctuation, where some families save their whole lives for a semicolon." Ever the raconteur, Key fills this rollicking memoir with tales of growing up with a larger-than-life father and being raised in the country, where boys would learn to fish and hunt and farm. Key soon discovers that he'd rather be reading than hunting, though he's reluctant ever to speak with his father about his hobby; the men in his family shun all books except the Bible, which they read more out of fear and guilt than genuine interest. Eventually, after Key kills his first deer, he and his father come to détente about Key's reading, and the son spends his mornings in his deer stand reading Tolkien rather than picking off bucks. When Key heads off to college and then becomes a husband and a father, he realizes how much he's inherited his father's "redneck" ways, but he also recognizes that he can never love what his father loves, no matter how hard he's tried. Key's memoir concludes by narrating the struggles many men experience: sons never living up to their fathers' expectations, sons feeling that they've let down or hurt their fathers, a sometimes lengthy period of alienation, and the healing moments brought on by the father's new bond with his son's children.

  • Garden & Gun "A loose and rollicking compendium of stories that's billed as a memoir but comports itself more like a killer concept album."
  • New York Journal of Books "You don't need to be a hunter or even a man to enjoy this exceptional memoir."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Consistently seasoned with laughs, this memoir is adroitly warm and deep when it is called for. An uncommonly entertaining story replete with consistent wit and lethal weaponry."
  • The Bitter Southerner "The World's Largest Man [is] a collection of essays, a memoir that reads like fiction. It truly is a gem."
  • Mississippi Business Journal "[Key has] a comic voice that puts him in the choir with other humorists you may have heard of—such as P.J. O'Rourke, Roy Blount Jr., Garrison Keillor, Lewis Grizzard, Dave Barry and others. Maybe even Mark Twain. 'The World's Largest Man' is a triumph of a comic memoir."
  • New York Times "Funny as well as tender."
  • Publishers Weekly "Ever the raconteur, Key fills this rollicking memoir with tales of growing up with a larger-than-life father and being raised in the country, where boys would learn to fish and hunt and farm."
  • Library Journal "It reads like fiction that is too crazy to be anything but truth. Fans of memoir, personal essays, and humor writing will devour this in one sitting."
  • Memphis Commercial Appeal "Indeed, like many of the great Southern humorists, Key relies on wit to bridge the deep emotional fissures that many people, at least of the thinking persuasion, have to cross when trying to reconcile the historic evils of the South with their own enduring love for it."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune "Blessedly, Key writes with a parched sense of humor, because his stories might otherwise qualify as tragedy. The line here between gasping and guffawing is piano-wire thin, but mostly you enjoy, swept up how Key ekes some brow-furrowing wisdom from most experiences. He's a masterful writer and observer."
  • BookPage "Both laugh-out-loud funny and observant about the ways we become our parents while asserting ourselves, The World's Largest Man is a wise delight."
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution "The sardonic tone and spicy language may prompt comparisons to David Sedaris, another humorist who has perfected the narrative stance of put-upon outsider vs. risible eccentrics."
  • Roy Blount Jr., Author of Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South "What I have read of Harrison Key's memoir makes me want to read more."
  • Lee Gutkind, Founder and Editor of Creative Nonfiction "Harrison Key will make you laugh and cry in his compelling essays. And whatever emotion he evokes, you will admire the style, grace and clarity of his prose."
  • Neil WhiteAuthor of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts "I haven't laughed like this in years. I felt like I stumbled upon an undiscovered treasure when I read Harrison Scott Key's The World's Largest Man. I couldn't wait to tell my friends. Rare hilarity, indeed, in these asinine times."
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