A Story of Survival, Acceptance, and Grace

A review of Stuccoville: Life Without a Net, by Corrinne Clegg Hales

Stuccoville explores the profoundly interdependent relationship between a boy and his mother, whose chronic and increasingly debilitating illness shapes both of their lives.

Charles Radke tells this remarkable story without blinders or sentimentality, without flinching from harsh details, or from his own culpability or anyone else’s.  A gifted storyteller, he makes excellent use of detail and image, and his gritty descriptions of Fresno’s west side in the 70s and 80s are especially powerful:

Summer afternoons, he writes, brought suffocating dust that rolled in from the orchards like fog and drained all color from the land and sky. 

Radke has faced that landscape both literally and metaphorically.  He knows what it means to fend off despair and resentment, to swallow anger at the arbitrary unfairness of the situation, to be enveloped by the intense shame of poverty.  He also knows what it does to a person to be acutely aware of what he is missing—of how it could have been—and he knows the deep guilt that accompanies momentary dreams of escaping to a more “normal” life.  

At times, the constraints and burdens placed on him by his father’s abandonment and his mother’s failing body become nearly unbearable.  

But this isn’t a grim book.

The mother is a quirky, ever-hopeful and determined character, and the boy is resourceful and funny and smart. The two of them teaming up to host Tupperware parties when Radke is a teenager is a beautifully told episode, at once hilarious and heart wrenching, and we see the face of true human resiliency, and the joy that comes with hope. 

Radke has written a compelling story of complicated familial love and commitment—a story of survival, acceptance, and grace.   

Corrinne Clegg Hales is the author of To Make it Right, Autumn House Press; Separate Escapes, Ashland Poetry Press; Underground, Ahsahta Press; and two chapbooks. Awards include two NEA Fellowship Grants and the River Styx International Poetry Prize. She lives in Fresno, California, where she taught literature and creative writing for 35 years at California State University, Fresno.

Published by charleslewisradke

I am a writer and full-time staff member at Fresno State. I run the Dissertation/Thesis Office at the university, and I founded the Fresno State Graduate Writing Studio. My full-length memoir, Stuccoville: Life Without a Net, launched January, 26, 2021 (E.L. Marker/WiDo Publishing). My creative nonfiction has appeared in Hash, Sierra Nevada Review, Stoneboat Literary Journal, and others.

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