In its honesty, this account of a quest for adventure and self-realization will attract those on similar paths.
Mitchell Phillips McCrady’s musing memoir, From Pittsburgh to Cadiz, captures vibrant scenes thanks to fine writing.
Drawing inspiration from Jack Kerouac and Hunter Thompson, McCrady proclaims early on that he is “geared for something unknown … something more than the normalcy that is ravaging America like a pandemic.” Afraid of nothing and professing love for girls, drugs, and rock and roll, McCrady defines that “something” as “becoming who I am.” Armed with a camera and a notebook and accompanied by his friend, Kevin, he travels to the UK in 1998 to work on a Christmas tree harvesting crew.
The first part of From Pittsburgh to Cadiz documents those events and has the earmarks of fine narrative writing. McCrady captures his experiences well, from the drudgery and toil of work in the cold and wet of the North country to “getting high … the alternative to letting it all bother me.” Still, early portions of the book feel less than fully connected to its end.
Whether plucked from notes or creative remembering, the book’s settings are explicit, as with an image of a wet Scottish day: “Squalls stand on the horizon like jellyfish with tentacles dangling.” Short profiles of other people are lively and sensual, and conversations are rich, thanks to McCrady’s ability to render both the language of an average Pittsburgh Steeler fan and that of a working-class Brit.
While excellent as a recollection of “experiencin’ life,” this narrative is light on reflection. The long view, which might include insights, discoveries, questions, and conflicts, is sacrificed in favor of the here and now. McCrady’s story is told in the always-present tense, and some interesting musings, such as over McCrady’s drug and alcohol use (he notices that his state of mind is more peaceful and open since he’s not drinking lately) seem not teased out enough. Drugs contribute to the most upsetting and revealing scenes in the book. Mitch’s contentious friendship with Kevin, his quiet, uptight fellow traveler and coworker, is also underexplored; he becomes an accessory whose motives are not clarified and whose place in the narrative is not resolved.
From Pittsburgh to Cadiz is a memoir that ably collects the living, breathing moments of a young man’s journey, revealing the writer who develops along the way. In its honesty, this quest for adventure and self-realization will attract those on similar paths.
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.