Jesus, My Father, the CIA, And Me: A Memoir Of Sorts, by Ian Morgan Cron
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Thomas Nelson Publishers/Booksneeze in exchange for an honest review.]
There is a small cottage industry of the memoirs of damaged souls who have sought redemption through Christ, many of which end up in my books to review . This particular volume is about a boy whose father was an alcoholic, whose mother was the New England equivalent of a steel magnolia, who had a nearly blind English nanny who tried to serve as a guardian angel, and whose own childhood was a frightening picture of generational patterns fighting against a deep and sincere longing for the peace of God coming through the mystical ritual of the Eucharist. There are some elements of this book that are far from perfect (the author appears to have a high view of ritual as a way of feeling in touch with the divine, and a not particularly great grasp of proper biblical practice), and the book is a warts-and-all memoir that includes some unpleasant matters, including an incident of sexual abuse from peers as well as violence from his father and his own history of teenage drug use and severe alcoholism.
Nevertheless, despite its flaws, this is a book that is extremely well-written from the sort of fellow one would want to drink a shirley temple with and have as a witty and humane conversation partner. With a self-effacing sense of humor and an elegant prose style, this is the sort of book that invites invitations to continue writing, and ought to be well-respected for its honest searching for truth, its candor, its mix of gentle humor and melancholy material, and its wholehearted and genuine desire for redemption and grace. Each chapter is largely thematic, and despite its generally chronological order, at the end there are some notable flashbacks to earlier scenes that set a comparison between his own childhood and the sort of father he strives to be, however imperfectly, for his own children. In many ways the struggle reminded me of my own insecurities and concerns about being a parent given my own upbringing, and those of others whom I know . In my eyes, at least, as a reviewer of this book, kind honesty covers a multitude of flaws in a work.
Among the more intriguing elements of this particular work are two elements that I found to be very intriguing in light of my own life history and interests as a historian. For one, the author himself grew up as the child of a spy whose cover during his early childhood was being a wealthy entertainment magnate whose alcoholism appears to have been worsened, if not actually induced, by the need to gain information and appear to be a drunken dilettante. However, his father’s angry temper and narcissism led the family into a drastic spiral into poverty and shame that put a great deal of strain on the family, and that led to his father’s premature death when the author was but a young adult (it was hard not to read this book without seeing at least some parallels between the author’s life history and my own, which perhaps signifies that I am the sort of author who is in the market to write books like this as well).
The other interesting element of this book to me that I found to be striking was the way in which the author as a teenager was drawn to a loudspoken radio host who thought himself and those like him to be immensely more knowledgeable than the rest of benighted humanity, and included in one of the chapters, among the many intriguing quotes that open up each chapter, is a quote from Elbert Hubbard, one of the figures who inspired a loudspoken and controversial radio host who had a large influence on the course of my own life, even if I never knew him directly myself. It would appear, viewed kindly, that one of the ways that people cope with impossible situations and backgrounds is to see themselves as having privileged knowledge about the human condition and seeking those who will validate those views. While this may be a necessary coping mechanism, it can lead to a sense of complacency about one’s state of knowledge that does not always square with the truth.
As a melancholy tale with a largely happy ending, this particular memoir ought to serve to inform its readers about the widespread nature of troubled families spawning offspring who struggle with faith and with their own longings for wholeness as well as loving families of their own. The fact that so many memoirs  are written about these situations suggests both a large market of writers and readers for such works, and a great need for people to find encouragement in their walk of faith given their own damaged souls and troubled personal histories. So long as we must walk along the via dolorosa that fills our lives, at least we can find some encouragement from those who have walked the road as well, ultimately pointing whatever glory their accounts possess to the greater glory and greater unmerited suffering of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the captain of our salvation and the one whose footsteps of love and obedience we follow as God gives us the strength and the grace to do so.
 Here are some of them: