A THINKING MAN'S BULLY by Michael Adelberg


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In these confessions of a super creep, high hilarity alternates with the sad lowdown on a grown-up boy who makes believe he’s macho.

Matt Duffy’s a mess: “My best friend from high school blew his brains out at the end of our junior year,” he begins, and then dryly adds: “A year ago, Jack, my fifteen-year-old son, attempted suicide.” Wife Diane naturally suggests a shrink, and so Lisa Moscovitz gets Matt, too truculent for talk therapy, to journal his thoughts to try to discover, then tame, whatever sorrow-sowing monster lurks within. His inner jerk is pretty bad. As a kid he tortures Bobby—he of the “boney body and Gumby-walk”—then moves on to ridicule “Hockey Rocky,” another hapless neighbor he overhears working out, grunting to the soundtrack of the Stallone series (he coaxes his pals to taunt: “Adrian! Adrian!”). That Rocky kicks his ass hardly stops him. In high school, Fran, with her “black hair with shaved sides like Annabella Lwin, the super-hot singer from Bow Wow Wow,” almost humanizes Matt because she’s smarter and tougher than he, but, he’s afraid of love. Instead, he merely knocks boots with a sharp, petite sweetheart, “the Aptly Named Jeannie Small”—he nicknames her “Aptly”—and dumps her. After belittling a token black “friend” and losing touch with another, the pot-smoking “Barry Big Hair,” Matt ultimately moves on to fatherhood, at which he’s by turns permissively, neglectfully and meanly incapable. As his work with Moscovitz progresses, so does his introspection. For one thing, he becomes painfully hip to the sins of his pop, an Archie Bunker who dismisses all males with functioning hearts as “sister-men.” By the end, after a series of slight and unconvincing breakthroughs, he has become almost human—not quite Jimmy Stewart, but sorta. By turning its back on its own bad-ass yucks, Adelberg’s debut concludes with a jarring sanctimony.

Five-sixths of a darkly terrific delight.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-57962-228-2
Page count: 190pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2011