Aaron, Approximately

Zachary Lazar, Author
Zachary Lazar, Author Harper $22 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-039211-6
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 02/01/1998
It isn't easy living up to a dead father's reputation; it's doubly hard when dad was a clown and the popular host of a Denver kiddie show. That's the fate of Aaron Bright, the eponymous narrator of this charming first novel. Horace Bright's disastrous attempt to rescue his tarnished reputation from a local shock-jock's repeated on-air charges of pedophilia breaks Aaron's world in two and sets the stage for later travails--beginning with Horace's spectacular death in a freak skydiving accident. As Aaron grows into a woefully inept teenager during the late 1970s and '80s, his excruciatingly hilarious efforts to chuck his loser image and fit in with the in-crowd at school, and his confused alienation from his widowed mother are handled with considerable tenderness and skill. Lazar triumphs when recording teen-on-teen brutality (the golden kids against the geeks, the geeks against one another), and his ear for teen-speak in all its crudeness and laziness is dead on. The novel is less successful when it chronicles Aaron's post-college relationship with his girlfriend, or when Aaron comments on his troubled adolescence, instead of just recounting it: the older Aaron is not nearly as interesting as his hapless teen self. Must such a fascinatingly weird kid grow up to be so maudlin and smug? These chapters detailing his adult life, which intercut the main narrative, distract from the story. Still, readers will warm to the teen Aaron's bittersweet search for acceptance and should eagerly await what comes next from this obviously talented new writer. (Feb.)
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