JACK IN THE BOX by William Kotzwinkle

JACK IN THE BOX

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Small-town puberty, 1945-1955--recreated in unabashedly juvenile, raunchy-nostalgic-ironic style, by a writer who's usually up to much more distinctive things (Dr. Rat, Fata Morgana). Kotzwinkle's pimpled hero is Jack Twiller, but fantasy-fed Jack usually thinks of himself as some figure out of comix or radio: the Masked Man, Captain Marvel, White Rider, Flaming Arrow, or (later on) Lord Henry. Around age eight, his preoccupation is weaponry: ""It was rough being a little guy without your own bee-bee gun."" But after conquering his retching reaction to a new school (""A chill of fear ran through the lone rider of the sagebrush""), he discovers spin-the-bottle and post-office: ""Kissing, he realized, was the most wonderful thing you could do, almost as good as finding a dynamite cap."" From there it's only a small matter of time to masturbation--""Did Captain Marvel Junior Jack Off?""--inspired by scraps of stolen porn or Sheena, Queen of the Jungle comics. (""Daisy Duck would never get him hot. She had pretty eyelashes but her legs were skinny and her shoes were too big."") And then, of course, there's the quest for ""someone to lower the standard of decency with""--a quest only somewhat interrupted by: tap-dancing lessons, Boy Scout camp (""Give Crocker a blowjob. It won't kill you""), school assemblies (""Septo Kanapka let off one of his inhuman farts""), hanging-around with the guys (""He had to get loaded tonight and puke all over himself""), mild gang warfare (""We'll smoke those cuntlappers!""), a James Dean complex, or career plans (""Would you be interested in Bird Grooming School?""). Finally, Jack does get a date for the prom--with luscious Gina Gabooch--but he plays it cool, passive, and terrified: ""This was her last chance to attack him, maddened by his aftershave."" Kotzwinkle certainly remembers it all in unvarnished detail--blackheads, Lavoris, sloppily destructive parties, ""dick-measuring contests,"" would-be mustache-growing, phony sexual boasts--and the ingenuous voicing only occasionally betrays an intervening 1980 sensibility (""a nice little touch of disdain chic, reflected Lord Henry""). But readers looking for anything akin to depth or shape here will look in vain: it's just the jauntily recaptured surfaces of a pretty average boyhood, with a few sentimental smiles and more than a few boys-only locker-room giggles.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1980
Publisher: Putnam