Thursday, March 6, 2008

Welcome to Kid World

If you're looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud many times, as it did me, consider The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. Ever since reading Bryson's A Walk in the Woods about 10 years ago, I've been a fan of his amusing travel logs. Thunderbolt Kid is his memoir of growing up in Des Moines in the 1950s. It's packed with humorous childhood episodes and is an idyllic snapshot of life in a small Midwestern town during a time when Americans were happily obsessed with Jell-O and household appliances.

Bryson's writing is both loving and snide, adoring his parents for their rather doubtable optimism and poking fun at his boyhood community. In one of my favorite chapters, Bryson recounts his humiliation when his mother made him wear a hand-me-down pair of his sister's lime capri pants to school.

I've always thought Bryson's word choice was exceptional when it came to depicting in great detail a place or event rife with humor and/or wonder. For example:

"The last stop on every shopping trip was a corner grocer's called Benteco's, where they had a screen door that kerboinged and bammed in a deeply satisfying manner, and made every entrance a kind of occasion."

"We did sometimes (actually quite routinely) give a boy named Milton Milton knuckle rubs for having such a stupid name and also for spending his life pretending to be motorized. I never knew whether he was supposed to be a train or robot or what, but he always moved his arms like pistons when he walked and made puffing noises, and so naturally we gave me knuckle rubs. We had to."

"Essentially matinees were an invitation to four thousand children to riot for four hours in a large darkened space."

"Mrs. Vandermeister was seven hundred years old, possibly eight hundred, and permanently attached to an aluminum walker. She was stooped, very small, forgetful, glacially slow, interestingly malodorous, practically deaf. She emerged from her house once a day to drive to the supermarket, in a car about the size of an aircraft carrier."

Similar to Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories and Jean Shepard's In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (which inspired the movie A Christmas Story), Thunderbolt Kid made me yearn for a time when children could wander around town all day long without parental supervision, getting into mostly harmless mischief and talking to strangers at will.

1 comment:

Jackamo said...

Your link to The Thunderbolt Kid is bo bo. It took me to In God We Trust.