Thumbsucker

Walter Kirn, Author Anchor Books $14.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-49709-1
Dark and witty, novelist (She Needed Me) and book critic Kirn's narrative of demoralized 1980s suburbia chronicles the coming-of-age of Justin Cobb, a 14-year-old who develops a series of addictions after his dentist-cum-therapist breaks his thumb-sucking habit. This premise is fortified by Kirn's uncommonly thoughtful treatment of Justin's humorously dysfunctional family--his sports-obsessed father calls his family ""you people""; his beloved, increasingly New Age mother is a nurse at a celebrity rehab clinic; his younger brother, Joel, quietly cultivates a fetish for expensive designer clothing. Only Justin seems to realize how close his family is to emotional collapse. Unable to bear the weight of saving them himself, he cleverly engineers their conversion to Mormonism. Thankfully, their new-found spiritualism does nothing to stifle Justin's iconoclastic opportunism, which keeps the story bouncing along to its conclusion. Kirn's bildungsroman contains all the genre's essential themes (sexual exploration, intellectual flowering, etc.) but his plotting subverts any clich d revelations. When Justin joins his high school speech team, his gift for persuasion, and a new addiction to decongestants, makes him cocky, but he is quickly deflated by his melancholy speech coach. Many other neat reversals of fortune, peppered with taut, edgy dialogue, fit beautifully into Kirn's satirical style. However carefully Justin documents the changes in other characters, his own character remains oddly consistent, so that, despite all the laughs, the novel ends with the hero still on the brink of real transformation. But he's such a sharp, endearing lad, with psychic depths as fascinating as his glossy cynicism that readers will be satisfied with young Justin just as he is. Author tour. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/18/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
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FORMATS
Prebound-Other - 300 pages - 978-0-613-49529-5
Prebound-Other - 978-0-606-25109-9
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-307-82990-0
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