DUMBFOUNDED by Matt Rothschild


A Memoir
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Growing up heavy, Jewish and effeminate on the Upper East Side.

Rothschild’s dialogue is so sassy, his characters’ exits so perfectly executed, that the average reader might be forgiven for assuming his sparklingly witty debut memoir was the draft script for a new HBO series on dysfunctional family life. His mother, a flighty sort given to jetting about overseas and marrying various aristocratic playboys, handed off infant Matthew to her richer-than-Croesus parents. Although practically the only child of noticeably Semitic persuasion in his exclusive corner of Manhattan, he was blessed with a glamorous, globetrotting, bellowing dragon of a grandmother, the book’s most intriguing character. Easily overpowering everyone (including his genteel Old World grandfather), she was always doing things like running off to Asia to shoot photographs for six months or storming into his grade school to curse out a teacher who tried to pressure him into being photographed in front of a Christmas tree. (“I’ll drop-kick his Santa-loving ass from here to Macy’s,” she declared.) Heavy-set and with a predilection for dressing in women’s clothes, Rothschild wasn’t exactly the most popular kid, but his relatively normal adolescent issues get a Dynasty-like kick from his mother’s neglect and the stink of vast wealth enveloping the whole family. Feeling like “the hangnail on the manicured hand of the Upper East Side,” he got through by playing extreme make-believe and gossiping up a storm. He eventually achieved some stability by moving out of Manhattan, but once away from the family circus, Rothschild’s narrative shows some slackness. (His coming to terms with his homosexuality seems particularly perfunctory.) A section about the author discovering his Jewish faith at college, then haranguing his mother for her lack of belief, is ugly enough to dissipate some of the sympathy prompted by his travails in earlier chapters.

Bumpy, but both snappy and deeply felt.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-40542-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2008