In this memoir the poet David Ray describes his troubled childhood and adolescence. Born into a poverty-stricken Oklahoma family, David and his sister lived in a succession of foster homes, after his abusive father walked out and his mother, a needy and often preoccupied woman, found it difficult to care for them. As an adolescent, David was sent to live in Arizona with John Warner, a war veteran who became his "guardian."

From the beginning, Warner sexually abused the troubled adolescent, who spent several years attempting, ineffectually, to escape from his abuser. After graduating from high school in Tucson, Ray accepted a scholarship to the University of Chicago, much against the wishes of his mother, who appeared occasionally in the picture, as well as those of Warner. In Chicago Ray finally freed himself from the abusive pattern.

The memoir provides a heartrending portrait of a succession of dysfunctional relationships, in most of which Ray, or his sister Ellen, emerge as victims or scapegoats. One of these is an intense experience with a sadistic writing instructor named Lowney Handy, who ran a writers’ colony in Illinois, and who may (or may not) have tried to murder David Ray. The book ends with a tension-filled reunion in 1966 between Ray and his biological father, after the young man had successfully completed graduate school and begun his career as a poet and teacher. The old man was just as hurtful as ever, and, reflecting on that last visit and his relationship with his father, Ray recalls some lines from Rilke: it was "so cloudy that I cannot understand / this figure as it fades into the background."


David Ray’s memoir is a powerful narrative experience. He tells the story with crisp clarity and intelligence, yet communicates the deep emotional vulnerability, uncertainty, and eventually, desperation that dominated his childhood and adolescence. It might have been easy for the author to picture himself as a hero, who confronted and eventually overcame his (human) demons. Alternatively, it might have been easy for the author to picture himself solely as a victim. David Ray chose the more difficult path of demonstrating his conflicted feelings (e.g. revulsion, anger, pain, desire to please, inherent optimism, and yearning for love), while at the same time depicting his dogged endurance, despite numerous ambushes and failures.

The good news is that David Ray overcame his traumatic childhood to become a fine writer and a poet. To quote Robert Coles on The Endless Search, "Here is a story of childhood vulnerability become, in the hands of a gifted, knowing poet and essayist the stirring reason for a lyrically expressive memoir that will hold its readers tight, give them much to consider, remember." Many of the segments to "consider, remember" in this book are narratives that could be used effectively to teach health professionals about domestic violence and sexual abuse, particularly of adolescents.


Soft Skull Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count