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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Somewhat Dishonest but Entirely True Coming-of-Age Story

Posted by on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 4:33 PM

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Kevin Brockmeier's A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip is subtitled A Memoir of Seventh Grade, and at first blush, that's truth in advertising. It's a story told in third person about a boy named Kevin Brockmeier who lives is about to start the seventh grade. The beginning of the book is a fond, Ray Bradbury-esque reminiscence of childhood, with Monster Manuals and superheroes dominating the conversation between friends.

But soon enough, Brockmeier is ostracized from his peer group for no apparent reason, and adolescence rears its ugly head. Filmstrip's account of bullying—sudden, unforgiving, meaningless—rings true. I'm not entirely sure that "memoir" is the right description for the book; something happens partway through that violates all the expectations of truthfulness that come with the genre. I don't want to ruin what the departure from memoir is because I found it to be a surprising and effective transformation, but readers expecting to read an entirely true account might find their willingness to follow Brockmeier tested past the breaking point.

But if you accept that not everything in a memoir needs to be strictly true—and how can you expect someone to remember every word in every conversation in a seventh-grade memoir?—you'll find a lot to enjoy here, especially if you're a man who grew up in the 80s and 90s. With language this clear and observational...

The gym stands on one side of the hall, Mr. Garland's class on the other, and every day, after first period, the girls finishing PE and the boys finishing Bible meet in the middle, twisting around each other like the tails of two kites. Sometimes, if Kevin paces himself just right, he will fall into step with Sarah Bell and her friends—the lip-gloss girls—with brush furrows in their wet hair and Guess triangles on their jeans. He basks in their incense of sweat and shampoo, thinking, This will be the day, the day I tell her a joke and graze her arm, a throwaway touch with the back sides of my fingers, nothing much, just quick and cool, as if I don't care, but then a locker slams shut or a voice cuts through the air and once again the tiny comforting thought caresses his mind: Tomorrow. You can be brave tomorrow.

...who cares if the story is fogged a bit by memory?

 

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