In this memoirlike novel, a self-described nerd fond of ham radio and the accordion comes of age in the 1950s and ’60s.
This second book by Wolf (Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, 2004) is not exactly a memoir. These loosely connected anecdotes follow Wolf’s narrator, Sherman Alt, through childhood and adolescence in Southern California before he attends medical school in New York City. Readers will easily identify with the trials and tribulations recounted here, from bullies and hideous acne to ballroom dance lessons, a momentous game of spin the bottle and fraternity high jinks. Most notably, readers witness Sherman’s protracted quest to lose his virginity; when he finally achieves his goal, he gets more than he bargained for. While the themes presented here may seem ordinary, the details are vivid and memorable, with amusing descriptions of his romantic, social and medical misadventures. After a long night of white wine and cheese fondue during his travels abroad in Europe, Sherman notes that he proceeded to “barf until my testicles were left dangling from my nostrils.” However, this book isn’t all fun and games, as a more pensive undercurrent runs through the collection. Sherman experiences the early loss of a childhood companion, a strained relationship with his father and the feeling of alienation caused by his avowed atheism, components that are nicely tied together in the final chapter. The prologue and the epilogue, full of tongue-in-cheek wordplay and parenthetical asides and written explicitly in Wolf’s voice, represent perhaps the least effective portions of the text. Wolf maybe felt the need to contextualize his tales by invoking the big picture and pondering theories of the universe’s origin; readers might appreciate the effort and the content but not necessarily the result or style.
A respectable batch of entertaining anecdotes, mostly bawdy and occasionally moving, mixed with moments of human connection and philosophical musing.