PATHETICA by Dale R. Schuss


A 1980's Memoir
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This debut memoir chronicles the author’s Canadian adolescence and awkward teenage friendships.

The author writes that as a young man in the 1980s, he enjoyed a cushy life in British Columbia that included weekend cabin getaways in Vancouver and vacations to Maui and California. Only one problem persisted: He was failing academically. After his classmates moved on to high school, he was doomed to spend another year in junior high, repeating almost all of his courses, and he felt like a loser. However, after Schuss befriended Ryan, his life got more interesting. He met him and his cooler, older brother Michael during a trip to Hawaii. (Both of them were natives of Pacifica, California, which Ryan nicknamed “Pathetica.”) The boys went on to develop a companionship that lasted into their 20s. Over the years, the two exchanged letters and phone calls, visited their respective hometowns, took trips to San Francisco and Reno, Nevada, attended the Vancouver world’s fair, and often went to Ryan’s favorite restaurant, McDonald’s. The author eventually faced his academic demons, got a job as an elevator operator in downtown Vancouver and struck out on his own. Schuss portrays Ryan as an enigma: He calls Schuss his best friend, but their in-person encounters come off as strange and often sad in this book, with little conversation, ill-timed snack breaks, and constant arguing over music. The memoir’s highlights are its copious ’80s references: cassette singles, answering machines, movies such as Back to the Future and Wall Street, and Ryan’s love of Prince. However, overall, the prose is earnest but shallow, detailed but rarely absorbing. What could have been a series of funny anecdotes about a boy who loves girls but isn’t sure how to approach them, and who strikes goofy poses with mall mannequins, is instead an endless loop of inexplicable interactions. Readers, like the author himself, will be unsure why he held onto his relationship with Ryan for so long.

A self-indulgent read that contains excellent ’80s nostalgia but fails to be compelling.

Pub Date: July 14th, 2018
Page count: 152pp
Publisher: FriesenPress
Program: Kirkus Indie
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