King Of The Mild Frontier Summary

Chris Crutcher

King Of The Mild Frontier

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King Of The Mild Frontier Summary

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King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography (2003), by American author and therapist Chris Crutcher, follows a young boy dealing with his various insecurities and learning about life in all its amazing and cruel layers. This slender memoir was praised for its vivid scenes of childhood and humor. Throughout, Crutcher asks how he went from an awkward, uneducated being to a well-known author with a psychology practice that helps abused and neglected teenagers recover from their trauma.

Its themes include ordinary heroism, psychosocial development, and humor as a life necessity. King of the Mild Frontier is not a linear or chronological work; in fact, there’s not much of a plot, and chapters can be read out of order. In interviews, Crutcher has said his biggest goal in writing for young adults was to make them laugh out loud.

King of the Mild Frontier begins as Crutcher relays a memory of pretending to ride a rocket ship in his living room when he was seven years old in Cascade, Idaho, a small, working-class town in the mountains. Since he was two years old, he had a reputation for a scary temper, and his family tentatively asked if he was pleased with the rocket ship they all had helped him make. He was pleased but liking to keep everyone on edge, he claimed that he wasn’t happy with it.

Chris’s infamous temper does suit him later in life as a family therapist. He looks at how his volcanic outbursts increased his patience toward younger children who, like him, felt a great amount of emotion without the tools to adequately express it. They, like him, may feel insecure over sports, the pressure to succeed at school, or basic anxiety around members of the opposite sex.

In the chapter “Something Neat This Way Comes,” Crutcher recreates the time his best friend, Ron Boyd, was playing cowboys with him. Ron suggested the two of them pee into a furnace. They’re mesmerized over how it steams from the furnace, as well as the loud hissing noise it makes.

When he’s not peeing on fire, he’s being tricked by his older brother, John, into doing stupid dares, or believing in nonsense. When he claims that Jesus had an older brother named Esus, the young Chris has no choice but to believe him. Once, he shoots Chris in the head (from a distance) with a BB gun; to Chris’s great indignation, his brother doesn’t even receive a slap on the wrist.

Chris’s father was a bomber pilot. After the war, his father returned to the states unable to find any similarly glamorous job. He decided to start his own business selling gasoline. Meanwhile, his mother was a chain-smoking alcoholic. Sadly, she would die at the young age of forty in Spokane, Washington.

As the vignettes continue, Chris finds his father’s Playboy, endures taunts from his older brother, and falls hopelessly in love with several girls. He becomes insecure about his pimples and obsessed with masturbation. He describes himself as a “dateless, broken tooth, scabbed over, god fearing dweeb.” He encounters racism, chauvinism, and misogyny.

He quickly realizes that the best way to earn respect in his neck of the woods is to play sports. Sadly, he has a small frame, skinny legs, and is fairly short.

The second half of King of the Mild Frontier explores Crutcher’s various reckonings with some of the more terrible facts of life. Pondering the story of Job, Crutcher wonders why bad things befall good people, such as his mother. As a man nearing middle age himself, Crutcher’s father falls ill. Crutcher keeps vigil overnight, dreading the inevitable fate of death. When the heart monitor flatlines, Crutcher realizes this is the worst moment of his life.

In the wake of his father’s death, Chris cannot answer why bad things happen to good people. Like his view of God, he concludes it’s just because. Yet, for all the depressing emotions that overwhelmed him after his father’s death, Chris realized that death gave meaning to life. “Without loss,” he writes, “there is no story.”

His ideas of heroism adjust. He realizes that heroes can be homegrown and local; his father, displaying steadfast loyalty to family, could be considered a hero. Heroes, for Chris, don’t waste time wallowing about misfortune, blame others, or don’t try to explain the facts of life in a more benign light, however heavy they may be. Later, he’ll meet more heroes in the form of mentors, teachers, and bosses.

As Chris moves through high school, reading more and more about religion, he realizes that he is more of an atheist than a Christian. He’s not exactly a scholar in high school or when he enters college. He recalls being thankful when Robert Frost died because now schools couldn’t assign any more of his poems. Throughout high school, he doesn’t have many distinguishing features besides the fact he’s short and pretty weird. He is, however, considered smart and does well on his exams without much studying.

King of the Mild Frontier concludes as Chris talks about some of the clients and students he’s encountered and the lessons and hope he’s tried to impart.