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Thumbsuckerby Walter Kirn
A New York Times Notable Book for 1999.
Synopses & Reviews
This eighties-centric, Ritalin-fueled, pitch-perfect comic novel by a writer to watch brings energy and originality to the classic Midwestern coming-of-age story.
Meet Justin Cobb, "the King Kong of oral obsessives" (as his dentist dubs him) and the most appealingly bright and screwed-up fictional adolescent since Holden Caulfield donned his hunter's cap. For years, no remedy — not orthodontia, not the escalating threats of his father, Mike, a washed-out linebacker turned sporting goods entrepreneur, not the noxious cayenne pepper-based Suk-No-Mor — can cure Justin's thumbsucking habit.
Then a course of hypnosis seemingly does the trick, but true to the conservation of neurotic energy, the problem doesn't so much disappear as relocate. Sex, substance abuse, speech team, fly-fishing, honest work, even Mormonism — Justin throws himself into each pursuit with a hyperactive energy that even his daily Ritalin dose does little to blunt.
Each time, however, he discovers that there is no escaping the unruly imperatives of his self and the confines of his deeply eccentric family. The only "cure" for the adolescent condition is time and distance.
Always funny, sometimes hilariously so, occasionally poignant, and even disturbing, deeply wise on the vexed subject of fathers and sons, Walter Kirn's Thumbsucker is an utterly fresh and all-American take on the painful process of growing up.
"A funny and engagingly original portrayal of adolescence in eruption....One of the year's most charming books. Kirn has little to fear from fellow reviewers. most of them should love Thumbsucker." Kirkus Reviews
"We've been hearing a lot about a crisis in masculinity lately. Now we can see it from a boy's point of view in Thumbsucker, a dark and clever new novel....Kirn's writing is inspired, sharply funny, and unforgiving." Newsweek
"Dark and witty....[Justin is] 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." Publishers Weekly
"Thumbsucker is funny, scary, sharp, smooth, and (in a provocative sense) clean. If there were more of this kind of thing around, you could get addicted to it." Roy Blount, Jr.
"[I]n Thumbsucker, Walter Kirn serves a strong glassful of bitters and wry....Like Justin Cobb himself, Kirn's novel is jittery, unsettled, wired with hyperactive energy. And like all interesting adolescents, it's capable of melancholy seriousness and manic humor, often in the very same thought." Adam Goodheart, Salon.com
"Kirn's novel often looks for comedy in the true pain of adolescence...trading anguish for laughs. And like a Simpsons episode, the plot tacks this way and that, detouring for a scene to follow an often hilarious subplot." City Pages
"Funny and neurotic, this second novel from New York magazine reviewer Kirn is a good story about growing up and learning to cope." Library Journal
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tilda Swinton, and Lou Taylor Pucci.
About the Author
Walter Kirn is the literary editor for GQ and a contributing editor to Time and Vanity Fair. He is the author of two previous works of fiction, My Hard Bargain and She Needed Me. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Oxford, he lives in Livingston, Montana. Portions of Thumbsucker have appeared in Esquire, GQ, and The New Yorker.
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