Monday, June 12, 2006

Frank Portman, King Dork

Every so often a book comes around that's just a fun read, and Portman's debut novel was just the ticket to kick off my summer reading. Recommended to me by a friend and colleague, the novel is, as its basis, young Tom Henderson's contemporary rant against what he calls the "Catcher Cult," the mindless belief amongst all Baby Boomers that somehow The Catcher in the Rye is the greatest book ever written. This he contends until one day discovering a stack of heavily annotated paperbacks once belonging to his father (who was a suicide when Tom was eight), and throughout the novel -- in between confrontations with his mom and stepdad, second-base hook-ups with girls, visits to a psychologist, and reveries about being in a band (and its hysterical revolving door of names and personnel) with his friend Sam -- "Chi Mo" (i.e., Tom) reads the various books in his father's collection in an attempt to learn more about the man he little knew (the stack includes, among others, Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, Graham Greene's Brighton Park, Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, etc.).

From a literary standpoint, this is a fun book. We get to hear Tom's reactions to each of the books from his father's collection, and whether he's giving each book an accurate reading or not becomes part of the fun of his character development. Also, he returns to The Catcher in the Rye periodically to denounce its dated language (the Holdenisms) and irrelevance to contemporary youth culture, but watching Tom's experiences in the first semester of his sophomore year parallel those of Holden over his weekend (the girl obssessions, the fights, the contemplations on religion, the conflicts with authority figures; at times, Tom even unknowingly lapsing into a few Holdenisms of his own) adds to the book's charm.

But for anyone who has ever wondered what it's like inside the hormone-addled brain of a sixteen-year-old boy, this is pretty much on the mark. Some things never change, regardless of your generation. And if you want a book that rocks (the author is the lead singer of the Mr. T. Experience), Chi Mo's observations on various genres of rock, not to mention the band name fixation, are absolutely hysterical. If you've ever been in a band, this is a must-read!

Looking for a fun summer read? Here it is!

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