Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

In this gritty coming of age novel, Jason Stevens is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks in a small town in 1970s West Virginia.  He is one of three boys in a family ruled by a tyrannical, eccentric father, but even in this family of misfits, Jason often feels like he doesn’t belong.  Short stories follow the thread, much in the same style as Olive Kitteridge, of Jason’s often painful growing up.  Along the way, various colorful and edgy characters come and go, and throughout, a grim honesty pervades.  Certain parts, like  the chapter from which the book takes its title, about the family cat, disturbed me and moved me, and stayed with me long after I moved on to subsequent chapters.  Reading this, I was very much reminded of The Glass Castle; told in first-person narrative, I’m actually unsure whether this book is fictional, as it very much feels at least partially autobiographical.

Cummings is a talented writer who manages to paint vivid scenes and characters and evoke a myriad of emotions from his readers.  I really enjoyed this short book.