Suffering & Surprise: On Paul Crenshaw’s ‘This One Will Hurt You’

Melissa Grunow
Oct 15 · 4 min read

A collection of essays with contemporary relevance, full of wonderment, heartbreak, personal history, & normalized violence.


Paul Crenshaw
Essays | 184 pages | 5.5” x 8.5” | Reviewed: Paperback
978–0–8142–5521–6 | First Edition | $19.95
Mad Creeks Books | Columbus | BUY HERE


To be human is to experience pain, whether at the hands of another or through one’s self. The inherent violence in an uncertain world and the desire to protect loved ones and the innocent from that violence is the crossroads at which Paul Crenshaw’s This One Will Hurt You exists, chock full of wonderment and heartbreak.

This collection of 18 essays is narrated in strong, compelling prose that is both direct and subtle in its navigation of suffering and surprise in the seemingly ordinary, mundane, and everyday.

In “My Possum Problem and How It Finally Ended,” Crenshaw confronts a possum roaming in his backyard one evening. At first, they regard each other with suspicion, the possum afraid for his own safety and for the safety of his family. After a while, Crenshaw comes to regard the possum with respect and curiosity, accepting that they must coexist, rather than antagonize each other.

“I did not consider shooting the possum. After initially scaring me, it hadn’t done anything other than wander around the backyard on certain nights, pulling itself slowly through the grass, running away if I scared it. I was still not used to having a wild animal living in the crawl spaces beneath the house, but as long as it didn’t come up the basement stairs and somehow open the door, I thought I could live with it.”
(p. 21)

Like many of the essays in This One Will Hurt You, “My Possum Problem and How It Finally Ended” has an unexpected ending, one that will give you pause if you are ever to encounter a critter making its home out of your home.

Family plays a pivotal role in many of the essays, particularly in how they shape identity and give one a sense of personal history. Crenshaw writes of his stepfather in “Cold,” his grandmother in “The Giving of Food,” his brother in “Hide-and-Seek,” and — perhaps the most compelling depiction of family-member-as-character — his youngest daughter in “Lightning and Thunder.”

While Crenshaw’s daughters appear in a few different pieces, it’s in “Lightning and Thunder” that he most vividly captures their childlike incorruptibility in contrast to his own perspectives as an adult seeking answers, even to those actions that should be left unquestioned.

“Me: Why are you spinning?

Daughter the Younger: Why aren’t you?

The obvious comparison here is to spin. Me, trying to slow the world, while she wants to speed it up, to become lost, like that game we played as children, dizzying ourselves and trying to walk while everything twists and turns around us, trying to find the righted world. […] Watching her spin I feel like I am only trying to find my footing.”
(p. 136)

Like much of his writing, Crenshaw’s juxtaposition in this essay is never jarring. Instead, it compels the reader to pause and to wonder what it must be like to allow one’s self to spin, rather than to fight for control footing, as though we can control our own environments and our own chaos.

While the title piece, “This One Will Hurt You,” will likely conjure up the most abhorrent confrontation of necessary violence, “Choke” is the most experimental piece in the book in which memory, narrative, perspective, and intentions toward truth are called into question. When Chris — a childhood acquaintance — dies, the reader is immediately compelled to draw the conclusion that Crenshaw is responsible for his death.

“Let me add another piece: Chris’s father watched us fight.

And another: Chris’s father wanted us to fight.

And still another: Chris’s father called Chris out of the house to fight.

What a monster, you might be thinking, but let me assure you that this is not the truth. When I called Chris’s father after Chris’s death we wept together on the phone.”
(p. 95)

This essay puts the “creative” in “creative nonfiction” in the way that it deceives the reader, pushing away and then drawing you back in, relentlessly questioning the truth and reliability of the narrator.

A masterful collection of timeless essays with contemporary relevance, This One Will Hurt You will, in fact, hurt you in a way that you never expected as it challenges and subsequently alters your perception of what it means to endure when violence is inherent and normalized.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

Melissa Grunow

Written by

Author of REALIZING RIVER CITY: A MEMOIR (2016) and I DON’T BELONG HERE: ESSAYS (2018), book reviewer, word nerd. www.melissagrunow.com #amwriting

The Coil

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

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