Bug Swamp’s Gold, by Billie H. Wilson
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/WestBow Press in exchange for an honest review.]
As someone who reads more than my fair share of memoirs , sometimes I wonder what separates a work that achieves a good deal of acclaim and a wide publishing deal and what is relegated to the ranks of the self-published. Without any exaggeration involved, this memoir, which covers the life of the author from birth, including some family context, until the end of World War II, is the sort of memoir that could easily be made into a movie, miniseries, or serve as the inspiration for a comical television show. It has all of the ingredients for successful screen adaptation: a quirky location in podunkville South Carolina, humorous and poignant stories told with vivid prose and including dialogue in a rich Southern patois, and wonderfully quirky people. This is the sort of story that wins people Academy Awards and sells out theaters, giving a look at the innocence and credulity of youth in a family that was a bit slow in explaining matters like the facts of life and the birds and the bees. In any case, it is more than a little puzzling why this book was self-published given its potential for a wide and appreciative audience of people who like laughing at or with rednecks.
The story itself is, aside for some flashbacks, a straightforward tale of growing up in a yeoman farming family in the rural South. The author’s family grows tobacco, works together, deals with problems with neighbors, has an alarming history of eloping, tries to increase profits by building bigger barns and hiring sharecroppers, deals with drama with neighbors including runaway pigs corralled to keep them from eating all the turnips and all of the details one would expect of Southern life. The author talks about her experiences getting to know the last local surviving Civil War veteran, about her lonely experiences in school, about her lack of interest in being a farmer’s wife, and in the various other aspects of isolated rural early 20th century life, including the fact that the author’s family didn’t have a radio as late as Pearl Harbor. The author’s family showed itself to be patriotic in terms of its service in World War II and the guilt that the author’s father showed in being too old and a bit too infirm to serve, and there were some dramatic circumstances where the author’s beloved uncle was a POW after the Battle of the Bulge. As might be expected in such a tale, there are stories of family curses as well as the struggle to live as good a life as possible and avoid the crippling burden of debt.
It is hard to find something in this book that is not cinematic gold. The author makes plenty of comments and jokes about the use of raccoon and possum for food, and the whole book has the warmth that comes from someone writing about a truly positive childhood. The one criticism I have about the book concerns its title, which makes sense when one reads the story but which is a bit off-putting and misleading to potential readers. Perhaps it is the title alone that kept this book from getting the sort of publishing attention that one would expect from a book that contains an account of parents warning children not to shoot their eyes out and learning how to live at least a little better based on the bounty of the land while growing tobacco and raising pigs and the like. As someone who grew up in a farming family myself from Appalachian Pennsylvania, there was a great deal of this book I found entertaining on that level, and as this is the sort of childhood that regularly appears in movies, it would not be surprising to me if some enterprising screenwriter saw in this book a great deal of potential, given our fondness for enjoying sights of eccentric poor Southerners on film and television.
 See, for example: