Soft Skull Press, 2003, $22.00
The Endless Search deals with David Ray's childhood and family problems in Oklahoma during the Depression, his traumatic teenage years in Arizona, a personal struggle while attending the University of Chicago, and the strange saga of a writers' colony in Illinois.
RICHARD RHODES has written of this book:
"There are millions of potential readers out there who are themselves exploring the pain of their own childhoods and who look to books as well as therapists for knowledge and support...and general readers, too, respond to the drama of such conflict... David Ray has translated pain into powerful and memorable poetry and prose."
From a Review of The Endless Search in
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sunday, June 29, 2003:
Poet turns suffering to art in his new memoir
BY DONALD HARINGTON,
SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
"If it is true that greatness as a poet (or novelist or painter) comes only out of personal suffering, then David Ray is one of the greatest poets of our time, although his name is scarcely a household word.
"And here in his own words is the story of that suffering, a life that boggles the mind in its misery and hardship but ultimately uplifts the heart because of Ray's ability to create art out of the crucible of his pain.
"His childhood in the poverty of eastern Oklahoma (he is at least half an Ozarker) would have given Charles Dickens fits and inspiration. Without sentimentality or self-pity he exposes a totally dysfunctional family in which he and his beloved sister Ellen endured missing parents, the sharecropper father literally away without leave most of the time and the mother missing even when she was there....
"The narrative throughout is interspersed with passages of... poems. Usually when prose is punctuated by verse the effect is disruptive, or impels the reader to skip, but here the poetry becomes such a natural continuation of the prose that it will send many readers out in search of the 23 books that Ray has written.
"After that terrible childhood … Ray endured an adolescence that was so dark and confusing and harrowing that it broke his heart. He acquired a guardian … who turned out to be a sadist, who tormented and sexually abused him during the years of his belated, protracted puberty.
"The chapters of this memoir about Warner would make a gripping novel, but they recount a relationship which Ray actually lived through, and eventually escaped from only to find himself in a stranger experience, toward the end of his adolescence, as a member of the infamous "writers' colony" of a peculiar woman named Lowney Handy, who had taken celebrated novelist James Jones under her wing.
"The title, The Endless Search, might seem to refer to Ray's perpetual quest for replacement parents and for the approval and affection his real parents denied him, but in a larger sense it means the search for love that drives all creative people.
"In another, unspoken sense, the endless search implies this artist's motivation to create works that would draw that love to him, and since Ray's great poetry has not yet won him the audience that he deserves, that search is still going on and may remain endless…."
—Donald Harington is the winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award for fiction. He teaches art history at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
from Search ends here for rewarding book
BY CURT SCHLEIER, The Kansas City Star, September 14, 2003
"... this is an exceptional book, made even more so as Ray reveals how his experiences informed his poetry, interspersed appropriately here.
"The Endless Search is not an easy read. It is a rewarding one, though; it convinced me that there's no obstacle I can't overcome. And if I have any doubts, I'll use David Ray's life as an example."
from David Ray's Memoir of Discretion
BY SEANNA OAKLEY, Re-Markings, India, September 2003
"How can the quiet ache of poet David Ray's memoir, The Endless Search, compete in a market voracious for what reviewer Chris Leman calls the 'extreme-memoir' genre of current best-selling memoirs in the United States?... Ray's search for reconciliation with a childhood of abuse and neglect assumes a modesty that runs counter to expectations shaped by contemporary memoir bestsellers. From disclosures of sexual abuse to 'peeping tom' voyeurism, Ray recounts shameful episodes from the past no less candidly than other memoirists. Yet the restraint that governs his evaluation of the multitude of parents and their proxies, relatives, guardians, and orphanage officials whose collective actions unambiguously disavow his value as a human being is striking enough to capture readers disenchanted by the prolix confessionals of the last two decades...."
From Kirkus Reviews:
MAY 15, 2003
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Pages: 320 pp.
Price (hardback): $22.00
Publication Date: 7/03
ISBN (hardback): 1-887128-52-2
Gripping chronicle of a lifelong effort to overcome damage sustained in childhood.
"Two-time winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, Ray (English Emeritus/Univ. of Missouri) is one of only a handful of poets to garner a following among nonacademics. While selections of his poetry, eloquent and intensely personal, are scattered throughout the present volume, the topic at hand concerns a boy ever in search of his missing father, or a surrogate. After growing up in Oklahoma during the Depression, son of a dirt-poor sharecropper and an obsessive mother who hated dirt in all its forms, Ray was shuffled among relatives and foster homes, later spending time on an Arizona ranch. He became self-supporting as a teenager and won a scholarship to the University of Chicago. A stint in that city as a social worker gave him insights into his own childhood and the generations of American men who grew up without a male role model. Ray describes the string of "uncles" with whom his mother sought security and a proper home life, as well as the wealthy guardian who both tormented and sexually abused him during a childhood comprising parts of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist.
"The author's frank account, unlike many in the current canon of victimology, is almost lyrical, while remaining unglamorized and unsentimental throughout. Ray's quest is alternately heartbreaking and chilling, yet he never lapses into narcissism or self-pity. He goes astray only when drawing broader conclusions, suggesting, for instance, that it is homophobia that drives the pedophile and the sadist. The personal conclusions Ray draws, however, and the triumph of spirit his life demonstrates are much more important.
"A riveting and well-written narrative of abuse."