A bleak memoir, played for laughs, of growing up poor, Jewish and drugged-out in Oakland, Calif.
Los Angeles–based comedian Kasher encountered enough unusual early trauma to justify both his profession and his acerbic outlook. Both his mother and father were deaf; as a boy, his mother abruptly broke up the family to move to California (“Oakland in the mid-eighties was a very interesting place to be white”), leaving his embittered father to retreat into an ultra-orthodox sect. Like many misfits, Kasher realized early on that class clown provided a potent identity. As an adolescent he took to drug and alcohol abuse with a vengeance, moving quickly from marijuana to LSD to dealing and wannabe gangsterism. He is frank about the appeal of drug abuse to self-loathing, marginalized teenagers: “I walked around the world convinced that I had some private information that had been kept from the rest of the squares in the world.” Kasher is equally honest about his callous treatment of his long-suffering mother and about his antagonistic trips through various rehab programs and special-needs schools. Yet his redemption arc is rather brisk; aware that any opportunity for a future was melting away, he ultimately decided at 16 to give up his atrocious habits on his own. “Why that day was any different, I don’t know,” he writes. “Something had died in me. My will had died. My childhood had died.” Throughout the narrative, Kasher relies on exaggerations, asides to the reader, general crudity and broad ethnic humor rooted in the absurdity of a Jewish adolescent narrator-observer in racially tense Oakland. However, the author provides keen observations, capturing grim yet mordantly funny details about the everyday life of lower-income people living hard lives in decayed urban environments.
Not likely to appeal to everyone, but irascibly charming in its honesty.