As a PR booker for comedy clubs, Kambri Crews developed the slogan “Life’s Tough. Laugh More.” In her new memoir, Burn Down the Ground, Crews reveals the source of this motto in her hardscrabble childhood in rural Texas with deaf parents. This certainly isn’t a lighthearted story: Crews’ charismatic father, a combination of “Daniel Boone, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ben Franklin, and Elvis Presley all rolled into one,” is a dangerously attractive figure, prone to violent rages when he drinks. His paranoid jealousy turns to abuse against women, a storyline that frames this memoir, which begins with the adult Crews visiting her father in prison, where he is currently serving a 20-year sentence for the attempted murder of a girlfriend. Not funny at all, but sure proof that life’s tough.
The laughter shows up in Crews’ vivid and affectionate depiction of life with two deaf parents (who also happen to be stoner party animals). Crews and her brother, who are both hearing, learn to talk without moving their lips, which allows them to have secret conversations right in front of their parents; Crews wins points with her friends by encouraging them to yell curse words while her father drives the car. Readers interested in the details of growing up as a hearing child within the Deaf community will enjoy anecdotes about Crews’ mother using American Sign Language to sign along with Fleetwood Mac songs or winning the women’s division of the National Deaf Bowling Association.
Burn Down the Ground reads more effectively as a series of sketches than as a fully integrated memoir; the role of Crews’ father’s deafness in his violent behavior is an under-developed but compelling theme. Somewhat like Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, Burn Down the Ground interweaves the toughness and laughter of an impoverished Texan childhood with Crews’ struggle to both love and acknowledge her father’s criminal violence and her mother’s inability to protect her from it. Her story is a testament to her resilience, and to the power of recognition and forgiveness to heal childhood wounds.