THIN ICE by Bruce McCall


Coming of Age in Canada
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 New Yorker humorist McCall (Zany Afternoons, not reviewed) effectively cauterizes his own dysfunctional family with his trademark red-hot, rapier wit. In short chapters that give a madcap serial reconstruction of a hardscrabble, emotionally deprived childhood in Simcoe, Ontario, circa 1945 (and, later, Toronto and Windsor), McCall, son of an absentee father and alcoholic mother who conveyed the impression that kids had ruined their lives, evokes a young Canadian's sense of inferiority to his US peers in the glory years of WW II and the postwar boom. Lacking its own Empire State Building, Hoover Dam, or Golden Gate Bridge, explains McCall, ``Canada declined to soar in any way.'' Canadian underachievement, combined with McCall's low family self-image, provides ample fuel for his rabid drollery: ``A rotten start,'' he muses, ``I don't know where I'd be today without it.'' Drawing at the refuge of his bedroom desk, McCall exercised a dawning artistic consciousness fed by comics, cartoons, and magazine illustrations, and reveled in the grand entertainment of the war, a ``triple header'' of news and propaganda streaming from Ottowa, Washington, and London; in news about ``flash'' American fighter planes; and in his own noble sacrifices on the home front, including the use of Soya Spread (a ghoulish synthetic peanut butter substitute). He loses momentum in reviewing his gradual departure from the wondrously twisted family nest to spend the mid-'50s as a failed commercial illustrator for Detroit--a waste, he says, but probably inevitable; it was a safe place to lie low while sorting things out and waiting for the master plan of his career to be revealed. Ultimately, a passion for automobiles led to a succession of editorial jobs with the Canadian car rags, and- -presto!--to this keen subversive's inevitable discovery of a writerly vocation that fits like a glove. McCall is always amusing, but his survivalist comic viewpoint is instructive, too, as a model for overcoming truly miserable circumstances.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44847-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1997