Earl Russell pulls the reader in with the title of his book, Cold Turkey at Nine, The Memoir of a Problem Child, and he continues to stir interest with the prologue that hints of an unspeakable tragedy. Then, with the skill of a seasoned storyteller he moves through his beginnings on a poor Tennessee farm, finally revealing that he actually quit a smoking habit cold turkey at the tender age of nine. In fact, Russell’s decision to quit the habit that he had enjoyed since his older brother introduced him to tobacco when he was two years old, reveals the theme of developing self-awareness that makes this memoir such a satisfying read. At nine, as a fourth grader, he became painfully aware that the other boys had grown much larger, that he was “becoming a skinny little runt.” He writes, “The only explanation that I could come up with for my diminutive stature was that seven years of smoking and chewing tobacco had stunted my physical growth. No one told me that tobacco could do this, but inside me I knew; I had no doubt about it. I had to kick the habit.”
Cold Turkey holds the reader captive through hilarious antics, painfully crushing tragedies, and a family secret that could have destroyed a less-resilient character. Russell’s thoughtful examination of motives and lessons learned carry this man and the reader through a lifetime of academic and personal achievement. Cold Turkey may inspire a few more courageous memoirs.