Listening to Bill Bryson as he reads, with some relish, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, one is struck by the idea that he must have sent off for one of those Hypnosis Kits he found in the back of comic books in the 1950s. His voice is soothing and plesant but seems to be hiding something.
It’s a slightly confusing account of what it was like being a rich kid in Iowa in the 1950s. There is a jumble of information here, from the world’s most boring toy-electric football, to the near end of the world events of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. So it is kind of a paradox, much like the 1950s themselves.
It is hard not to be jealous of Bill Bryson anyway-he has lead the kind of life many of us grew up dreaming about. Idyllic childhood aside, he has been a successful writer and globe trotter and seems to always be in the mist of some grand adventure. What a twit.
Anyway-The Thunderbolt Kid has innumerable and annoying references to the afore mentioned hero-one Billy Bryson as a child. I used to have globe dominating fantasies myself, but I was more of the Walter Mittiy model where I would re-create great history events with myself cast as the hero. Bill Bryson’s Lighting Bolt Kid is simply an average child who hates anyone older and stronger than he is and vaporizes them with glee. This particular bit of business I could have done without. But the bits about junk food, toys, tv shows, and a wanton obsession with sex are all unsettlingly familiar and strike a note of fond remembrance. Though I was a good ten years later on arrival than Bill.
Like A Christmas Story, there is a kind wonderland feeling to these memories of a world long gone and all but forgotten. But Bill Bryson spends a little too much time on the wonders of Atomic Weapons for it to be as wholesome as a Christmas Story-and I don’t recall our hero lusting for anything except his Red Ryder B B Gun. But there is still that kind of feel about it. That It would have nice to be a kid then, feel. Though of course, The Wonder Years was about my own time.
Bill Bryson paints the portrait of The Good Old Days-as all older people do-with mile high snow drifts and the trip to school uphill both ways-but he does so with tongue firmly in cheek. Bill can’t help, from time to time, dropping in bits of data such as how many thousands of farms there are in Iowa today versus how many thousands of farms there where in Iowa when he was a child. These little statical oddities tend to push you out of the narrative, such as it is, and make you wonder if he is making the figures up, as he does about people’s ages-everyone seemed to be about six thousand years old.
But it is a fun book and there were many laugh out loud moments.