In a well-crafted debut memoir of youth, Ordick chronicles life’s twists and preoccupations in self-deprecating style.
Born in 1937 in Chicago, Ordick has impressively vivid memories of his first 25 years of life. “I don’t remember the womb,” he begins, but he seems to remember everything else: being cared for, as a toddler, by his grandparents in the apartment above their florist shop; confusing the dog for his sister; and terrorizing the babysitter. He was a clown but also perennially attracted to violence—which leads him to question how much of personality is innate and how God could possibly control human nature: “Is there a God who would bring his fantasies to life through us? If it is so, then we cannot control our destiny.” Ordick succeeds at re-creating a child’s perspective and recalling—or inventing—convincing dialogue. The tone is pleasantly jokey, with Groucho Marx–style puns, though Ordick often writes in blunt, choppy sentences that interrupt the narrative flow, such as “Still do have trouble responding.” His stream-of-consciousness musings grow darker after he joins the Navy, though his sarcastic manner is less attractive where it shades into racism or misogyny. Raunchy humor is borderline acceptable—“She was well done. Just the way I liked my burgers”—but Ordick later reveals that he occasionally entertained rape fantasies. As a naval radioman, part-time Texas horseman and aspiring Hollywood actor stuck in dead-end jobs, he met many enticing ladies, but none compared to Little Bird, a Kickapoo who stole his heart (she turned out to be married). The book contains many strong character portraits of friends, colleagues and roommates, and Ordick avoids melodrama when expressing regret at his failures. However, the Job-like refrains, expressing skepticism about God’s presence and benevolence, seem shoehorned in and rarely follow logically from the plot. Any unfortunate or seemingly unjust incident leads him into religious speculation. For instance, after his report of putting an injured dog out of its misery, he asks, “[H]ow could a glorious and holy God tell of his mercy, then be so indifferent?” The laundry list title and New Age cover could use a rethink, too.
A peculiar but good-natured account of a varied, adventurous life, derailed at times by a theological obsession.