Monday, March 29, 2010

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

For some reason I had taken it for granted that Bill Bryson wasn't my kind of writer. (Too popular, perhaps? And to anyone who accuses me of intellectual snobbery, I have only this to say: THE DA VINCI CODE). But then I caught him reading from THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID on Radio 4 and liked what I heard. Now I have read the whole thing.
The story of Bryson growing up in the fifties in Des Moines, Iowa, is not just the account of a childhood, but the portrait of a whole decade. Bryson has done his research and what he uncovers makes hair-raising reading. The ways in the Americans were developing and testing their nuclear deterrent and the extent of cold war paranoia make Kubrick's DR STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE BOMB look like a work of sober realism. The development of fast-food, the rapid rise of the consumer society, the doubling of the number of cars on the road in just a decade: fascinating as all this was, what I most love about the book are the parts about his family and friends. There were times when I was helpless with laughter. He refers in the acknowledgments to 'his incomparably wonderful, infinitely sporting mother' and so she is.
This is a work of comic genius and like most such it has darker tones that prevent it from being too sentimental or nostalgic. I truly didn't want it to end.

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