A personal memoir that comically chronicles a youth filled with social anxiety, drug abuse, and shiftless meandering.
In his debut, Vella frankly discusses the travails of his awkward, difficult youth in Melbourne, Australia. In the fourth grade, he suffered from a serious sinus infection that resulted in a relentlessly runny nose, a condition that required multiple surgeries; he also had chronically entangled testicles, also remedied by a medical procedure. Although he was painfully reserved, he developed a voluble inner monologue, which he named “Morgan Attenborough”—a combination of American actor Morgan Freeman and British broadcaster David Attenborough. He enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the seventh grade, but mostly, he was socially invisible or the object of ruthless taunting. He found solace in inebriation, first with alcohol, then with drugs: “I was free from the shackles of self-consciousness, swinging the ball and chain of introversion around my head like a weapon, threatening passersby with a crushing assault of words.” That wasn’t the author’s only form of escapism, though—he also avoided seriously pursuing university studies or a real career, which led to financial distress. His isolation was worsened by the fact that his drug abuse and social anxiety had rendered him impotent. Still, Vella finally managed to piece together a fulfilling life and a welcome sense of normalcy. This brief remembrance is written with buoyant wit and self-effacing charm. Vella has a knack for courting the absurd in life. For example, he once took on a roommate who proved so difficult to live with that he had to have her forcibly removed from his apartment; she ended up at a psychiatric facility. Also, there’s an impressive evenhandedness to his account—he lightheartedly discusses his parents’ limitations but gratefully acknowledges their virtues, too. He doesn’t break any new philosophical ground here; for example, he says that he eventually discovered that mind-altering substances would never provide him with insight into his true self and would even bar entry to full self-awareness—a valuable lesson, indeed, but a less-than-revelatory one. However, readers will still find his mix of candor and comedy to be satisfying.
A humorous, free-wheeling account of youthful indiscretions.