Saturday, September 09, 2006

Book-A-Day #51 (9/6): Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn

As I said a couple of posts below, I read this because I'd just seen the movie made from it. (Which is not the ideal way to read a book, but it got the book off my shelf and into my hands, which is a plus.) I'd previously read Kirn's Up in the Air and vaguely liked it, but I wasn't on any particular quest to read all of his books. In fact, as I recall, I picked up the novel because of the movie, as I fairly often read books rather than seeing the movies made from them (I read The English Patient that way, for example).

Thumbsucker the novel is an episodic, apparently very autobiographical tale of a young man who spends his teenage years (in the early '80s, from internal evidence) first sucking his thumb a lot, and then searching for alternatives. It's divided into three essentially independent parts: "Mouth to Mouth" (in which the boy stops thumbsucking and joins the debate team), "Hyper" (in which he goes on Ritalin), and "Kingdom Come" (in which the whole family converts to Mormonism -- the movie doesn't even touch this material).

I was prepared to like this a lot; Justin Cobb, the hero of the book, is probably only two years older than I am, and so I'm very familiar with and sympathetic with his high school experiences. (And how many Americans don't secretly think high school was the defining point of their lives?) But the book just meanders around and doesn't really go anywhere; it made the fairly meandering movie look like an exemplar of tight plotting, which is a difficult thing.

Thumbsucker the book is enjoyable, but not wonderful: it's probably most interesting to men born in the late '60s or early '70s somewhere in middle America.

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