Chuck Radke was raised in Fresno, California, in a neighborhood situated within a vast fig orchard and bordered by the Santa Fe Railroad. His father called the area Stuccoville.
Just a month before Chuck turns eight, his father drives off in their Buick Skyhawk to start a new life with a thinner, prettier woman. The young boy and his chronically ill mother, whose body is ravaged by lupus, are left to redefine their family as they face the world together.
Twelve-year-old Chuck hosts Tupperware parties to raise extra money. He administers his mother's assortment of medications when she's in too much pain to do it herself. He learns to make meals out of whatever is available, even if it's only tomatoes, mayonnaise and bread.
Remarkably, Chuck's mother defies the medical establishment's expectations for survival. Her courage and determination shape the character of her only child.
Despite medical and financial struggles, mother and son find hope and connection in ways as momentous as surviving a near-fatal motorcycle accident and as minor as baseball and small, hypoallergenic dogs.
Charles Radke is a writer and full-time staff member at Fresno State. He runs the Dissertation/Thesis Office at the university, and founded the Fresno State Graduate Writing Studio. His full-length memoir, Stuccoville: Life Without a Net, launched in January 2021 from WiDo Publishing.His creative nonfiction has appeared or will appear in HASH Literary Journal, the Sierra Nevada Review, Montana Mouthful, and others.
Stuccoville: Life Without a Net Paperback – January 26, 2021
During his childhood and adolescence, Charles (who goes by "Chuck") Radke did not want his peers to know the depths of his poverty. He went to extremes for others not to learn just how poor he and his chronically-ill single mother were. He describes how badly he wanted Vuarnet sunglasses, a "real" house (not an apartment), Levi jeans, Izod shirts, and other markers of middle class from the 70s and 80s. His vivid descriptions of both his emotions and actions - including recollections like using his mother's stitch remover to get rid of the tell-tale stitching from the pocket of his jeans - which were the "poor kid" brand from Sears - elicit so much emotion and keep you turning the page to read the next story.
While reading, I kept finding myself saying, "It's got to get better from here," but it doesn't. Every time there seemed to be something good happening for Chuck and his mom, it got derailed for one reason or another. One of the opening stories about a birthday trip to the circus that took a tragic turn is just one example of many traumatic events. His 12-year-old reaction to his mother yelling at him to bring her medications, as well as his drunken, dog-kicking anger as a young adult called by his mother to go to her apartment late at night to pick her up off the floor, are just two of many examples of his age-appropriate, heart-breaking responses to his life situation.
Stuccoville is not all negative stories. Chuck also shares about people who were a positive influence on him, including a neighbor who taught him how to use tools and a fast-food boss who took him under his wing.
The way Chuck writes - often infusing his adult humor as he recollects the tragic experiences from his youth and young adulthood - make this memoir a page-turner that you can't put down. His descriptions also give valuable insight about how poor kids experience the world. He shares his reflection that, "The poor see things better because they have much less to see. And this led me to something more: When I was a kid, the adults around me - teachers, mostly - always said how observant I was."
Chuck's childhood observations and recollections are remarkable. If you enjoy memoirs, great writing, and being inspired by people who have overcome the odds, you'll enjoy Stuccoville
This beautifully written book transported me from the time I picked it up to the minute I put it down, which was WAY past my bedtime as I couldn't stop reading. What a richly detailed and poignant journey through the author's life! As one that grew up in the same town as Mr. Radke, I immediately was taken back to the sights, sounds, and feel of where we lived, and found it a totally authentic and deeply moving trip back to the 1970s and 80s time of my youth. Most compelling, however, was being able to journey through his experience alongside his beloved mother, and as incredibly difficult as that must have been for him, the love and devotion he had for her clearly shone through his words. I can't recommend this book highly enough--it was moving, entertaining, and I am grateful for having the opportunity to read it!
An inspiring memoir of resilience & overcoming childhood trauma