Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Proud Flesh (1973)

There is no doubt about it. The Texas Renshaws were a dominating family, one willing to run over any outsider who dared stand in the way of whatever they wanted. And their definition of “outsider” was anyone not born into, or married into, the Renshaw family. If one Renshaw could not get the job done, the rest of them saw nothing wrong with ganging up to use whatever brute force was necessary to get them what they wanted.

Whether or not any Renshaw involved in a dispute was right or wrong never mattered much to the rest of the family. Either way, the Renshaws, none of them strangers to violence, were certain to show up to defend their family member or, if it was too late for that, to avenge him. That was a given, something that the rest of their East Texas community accepted as a fact of life, and something that the six Renshaw boys took for granted. Considering the nature of the Renshaw sons, it was a brave man who courted any of the four Renshaw daughters but all but one of them managed to marry.

But the family’s chief strength, a clannishness learned at the knee of the strong widow who headed the family, would ultimately reveal just how weak its members really were when that widow, Edwina Renshaw, suffered a sudden heart attack and took to what was expected to be her death bed. Responding as they always did in times of family crisis, the Renshaw children returned to the family place with all of their own children and spouses in tow to await their mother’s death. Throw in a few older relatives who felt the need to be there and a bunch of screaming toddlers who only wanted to go home and there is little wonder that a family as volatile as the Renshaws would crumble under the pressure of all that togetherness.

The Renshaw family was not easily embarrassed but the way that their mother’s favorite child, youngest of the bunch, had completely abandoned the Renshaws was something they tried desperately to hide from their neighbors. Determined that Edwina would live long enough to reconcile with her youngest son, the Renshaw boys tried to keep her alive the only way that they knew how, through brute force and will. The craziness resulting from their tactics is at the heart of William Humphrey’s story, one involving kidnapping, interracial “romance,” dogs slaughtered in the middle of the night, a daughter who seems as likely to accidentally kill Edwina as to nurse her back to health, and misadventure in New York City.

All in all, this is quite a story and it proves that Proud Flesh is still only flesh after all is said and done. Or, as William Humprhey put it, “Over the lacerations they inflicted upon each other, tissue formed like proud flesh over festering wounds.” The Renshaws, in the end, were just another family bent on self-destruction, and they made a fine job of it.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. It's an old fashioned family saga, bybee...a bit repetitive at times but quite a fun book to read...not a family I would want to know, that's for sure.