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A Memoir of an American Childhood Gone, Well, Wrong

by Jason Mulgrew

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-176665-7
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Blogger and “Internet quasi-celebrity” Mulgrew delivers a bumptious memoir celebrating his wildly dysfunctional—but fun—childhood as a nerdy kid in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood.

The author is the son of a macho, chain-smoking laborer who declined to stop partying even after suffering a broken neck from an ill-advised late-night dive into shallow water in one memorable anecdote. Mulgrew’s world was characterized by bookies, casual violence and rampant alcoholism, but his tone is light, even celebratory, as he lovingly details the outrageous personalities of the larger-than-life characters who populated his gritty neighborhood. The author failed to excel at such locally exalted vocations as athletics or hell-raising, so he threw himself into more quiet pursuits like selling illegal fireworks and hustling at video-hockey tournaments. Mulgrew documents his struggles with Catholicism, Little League, attracting girls and maintaining respect in an entertainingly hapless fashion, but the narrative fails to cohere as a fully dimensional portrait or offer much insight into the social and family dynamics that engendered such goofy behavior. Ultimately it becomes just one thing after another—random fights, drinking binges, mysterious stab wounds, trips to jail. One comic set piece stands out: a Scotch bonnet pepper–eating tournament that leaves its participants writhing in agony, leaking mucous and begging for water and ice cream. Mulgrew includes many embarrassing family photos to buttress his remembrances, and the affection he feels toward his wayward subjects is palpable. However, the author’s reflexively snarky, self-deprecating voice—typical of Internet quasi-celebrity bloggers—becomes tiresome over the course of the book.

Fitfully funny, long on snark, short on substance.