Barlow, the son of a Kansas farmer, escapes into a wonderful world of daydreams in this promising debut memoir.
At age 10, Barlow had little to smile about. Struck down by polio, he spent his time convalescing in a hospital, sharing his hopes and dreams with his young friend, Tim, a fellow patient who later died. The neighborhood kids pushed him around in his wheelchair after he went home—until they grow bored and started to call him names. Woody eventually recovered from polio, only to be diagnosed with a lazy eye that required a complex operation. Confronted by adversity at every turn, the young boy found solace in the landscape surrounding his father’s farm in Olathe, Kan., on the outskirts of Kansas City, Mo. Woody explored back roads on his bicycle and imagined himself as a Wild West gunslinger fighting off Cheyenne Dog Soldiers. At other times, he hung ropes from trees in his yard and became Tarzan, swinging from branch to branch. He pretended that an old woman in town was an evil storybook witch whose powers had to be neutralized, and set about formulating an elaborate plan to bring her to justice. Woody’s daydreams challenged the drudgery of his everyday life, but as he grew older the demands of adulthood bore down on him. He was mystified by women and sex, and strove for some amount of financial independence in the hope of buying a car. His dream world began to dissipate, and, in turn, the memoir loses some of its playful charm; the blunt pain of reality is hammered home when Woody, working a shift at the bowling alley, hears the announcement of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The author delivers his narrative in an affable, laid-back style with a distinctive wry wit. Throughout, the memoir successfully channels and finds catharsis in a land of make-believe often lost to adults. Unfortunately, the book loses its way, or perhaps its heart, in its latter portion when recalling Woody’s unremarkable adolescence.
A delightful exploration of childhood fantasy, rudely awakened by reality.