A Week in Books
Tonkin, Boyd, The Independent (London, England)
You used to know where you stood with literary stereotypes. The Russians did agony' the French, ecstasy' the Americans, naivety. And the British? Ah, the British did irony. How things change. A bestselling American author - OK, he does live here - publishes a memoir just bulging with droll narrative swerves, shimmies and double-takes that at the same time overegg and undercut his subject and himself. The result is a sophisticated book about simplicity, and a knowing account of ignorance. So what happens to it in the alleged capital of the sarky and the snide? The volume arrives to a literal-minded chorus of patronising praise that utterly fails to register the chill beneath its charm. I think we must be suffering from a surfeit of mind-rotting Betjemania.
Not that anyone would ever want to confuse Bill Bryson with Jonathan Swift. No doubt our favourite comic travel writer really did adore as much about his 1950s childhood in Des Moines, Iowa, as his memories suggest in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Doubleday, pounds 18.99). I'm sure that in the safe, prosperous heartland of the post-war superpower, the NeHi grape pop did let Billy the baseball writer's son see "to the edge of the universe"' and that the Toddle House in Des Moines served the world's "smoothest, most mouth-pleasing banana cream pie". Whether browsing the superhero comics at Kiddies Coral, visiting the Tea Room at Younkers department store ("a state room from Buckingham Palace magically transported to the Middle West") or wolfing meatloaves "the size of a V8 engine" at potluck suppers with his grandparents, Bryson captures the wide-eyed glee of a baby-boom boyhood with the relish you'd expect. So does this feel like paradise amid the cornfields? No - more like a spooky out-take from The Truman Show.
That knack of standing inside and outside the Middle-American dream makes his memoir much smarter, …
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Publication information: Article title: A Week in Books. Contributors: Tonkin, Boyd - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: September 8, 2006. Page number: 20. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.