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by Walter Kirn
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385497091, Paperback)New York magazine's witty, cheeky book critic Walter Kirn rides high in his exhilarating second novel, and so does his protagonist, Minnesota teen dweeb Justin Cobb. Justin's hippie dentist may have hypnotized him out of his socially perilous thumbsucking habit, but he can't suppress the boy's "oral gift." Justin's mouth just won't quit: beer, decongestants, nitrous oxide, cough syrup, Midol, and Ritalin go in, and out spritzes hilarious commentary on his eccentric yet authentic life and times. Our hero's mood larks and plunges erratically, but Kirn's prose is alert, artful, under control. The debate coach's skin is "the neutral hue of turkey meat." One of Justin's realistically inconclusive crushes is a redhead "with freckles the color of new pennies." Her dad is a Limbaughesque columnist who calls welfare recipients "food tramps." Meanwhile, Justin's dad, Mike, is "the Führer of fly-fishing," an ex-gridiron hero obsessed with deer hunting (and eating). He's also prone to spouting his vile old coach's preposterous apothegms ("Until you're broken, you don't know what you're made of"). Mike is funny and poignant--a tricky note to hit.
Like a mucked-up modern Huck Finn plying his own stream of consciousness, Justin drifts into weird scenes: a job at a gas station fated for torching, a visit by his mad Winnebago vagabond grandparents, a kidnapping caper to rescue a pothead infant from sinister hick parents, Grit and Munch. Chapter 4, about a Chippewa City debate meet and rather chaste orgy, is dazzling teen satire. Not that Thumbsucker is flawless: Justin's nurse mom is a vague character, his more vivid kid brother is inexplicably ignored, the satire of the Hazelden celeb rehab is lame, and, like Huck's, Justin's adventures sort of peter out instead of leading up to a slam-bang finale. The family's conversion to Mormonism seems arbitrary, though richly detailed, since Kirn was a small-town Mormon kid.
Flaws, schmaws. Thumbsucker is the truest book about adolescence I've read since This Boy's Life, and Kirn is some kind of comic genius. --Tim Appelo
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:51 -0400)
A comedy on a 14-year-old boy who still sucks his thumb. Cured of the habit by his dentist, he finds himself deprived of a relaxant and the novel describes his search for a substitute in sex, drink and smoking.
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