Coming to Manhood When All the Rules Have Changed
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A premature, somewhat shallow memoir of a bright young man’s coming of age, from infancy through high school, during the 1970s and ’80s. Except for a vague reference to “our dreams of [gender] equality set to rock and roll,” Lichtenberg, a graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers Workshop who has taught writing on the university level, never makes clear what the old rules of becoming a man were or why and how they have “all . . . changed.” In the first third or so of the book, he does have some moving passages concerning his father’s fits of rage, his mother’s creative and feminist leanings, his parents” briefly dropping out of careers to pursue a dream of the simple life in rural California, and their divorce. Yet far too much of this work is devoted to Lichtenberg’s often successful, if unnoteworthy, quest for status and sexual experience at the elite New York City high school he attends. If the author is ideologically for gender equality, in his behavior, he is pretty much a traditional, prefeminist American male. And in this largely self-absorbed book—perhaps not coincidentally, the longest chapter is entitled “My Don Juan Complex”—the author manifests little critical self-reflection, while family members and friends usually are portrayed without real depth or nuance. In addition, there is a depressing dearth here of allusions to the wider worlds of culture and ideas, of politics, society, and religion. Lichtenberg’s book thus serves as a caution to potential memoirists to ask themselves two questions: Has my life and times really been significant enough to try and capture in book form? And, if so, have I thought about it probingly enough, and can I faithfully and imaginatively capture its texture? In this case the answers to both questions unfortunately is “no.”

Pub Date: April 13th, 1999
ISBN: 0-553-09982-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999