A young Jewish boy trips painfully through his midcentury childhood in this debut memoir.
Kagan describes himself as an overweight, magic-trick-performing, clarinet-playing, comedy-loving middle child in this reminiscence. He was raised in a Jewish family in Dallas, Texas, during the 1950s and ’60s, and his upbringing is reminiscent of the narrator’s in the 1983 film A Christmas Story (itself based on author Jean Shepherd’s 1966 novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash); for example, Kagan tells of trying to keep his parents ignorant of his classroom antics while begging them for a Red Rider BB gun. He recounts various episodes, such as when he accidentally burned down the family’s toolshed while pretending to be the Lone Ranger, and when his friend Melvin Schliffstein shot him in the eye with a peanut from a slingshot. Another story recounts how the 11-year-old author discovered masturbation and was terrified that his parents were about to give him a sex talk; instead, they informed him that it was “time for us to tell you all about what it means to be Jewish.” He later recalls being asked by a girl in middle school if he’d ever gotten past first base, quipping that “my physique resembled a bag of bats, balls, and bases versus those who actually hit and ran the bases.” Male readers who came of age during the same time period will relate to many of the author’s reminiscences. Kagan is a natural, energetic storyteller, and his tales have a solid sense of structure. Unfortunately, their humor is often overly broad and dated—think Billy Crystal’s work, but with more of a fondness for grossness. Kagan appears highly amused by his book’s title, and he gets plenty of mileage out of it; his Reader’s Guide begins, “I’m so honored your book club has gotten into My Shorts, as odd as that may sound!” The overall result is a fairly familiar series of awkward anecdotes about a horny teenage boy and his overbearing relations, which won’t be to everyone’s taste.
A self-deprecating remembrance that’s hampered by unsubtle humor.