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The memoir of every Iowa boy,
This review is from: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir (Hardcover)
If you were an adolescent male growing up in Iowa in the 1950s and '60s, your first reaction to The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid will be, "Hey! I did that, too." Your second reaction will be, "I knew that kid!"
Bill Bryson has teased us before with little glimpses of his youth, especially in The Lost Continent and A Walk in the Woods. The Thunderbolt Kid is different in that it takes us to Des Moines, although it could have been Cedar Rapids, or Sioux City, or Peoria for that matter, in an extended stroll through his childhood. It is, indeed, the childhood of every middle class boy born in the Midwest between 1945 and 1955. We all did the same things and, yes, they were insanely funny, both at the time and upon reflection. You almost couldn't help having a good childhood. It even continued into college: the cigarette fuses on firecrackers which allowed an all-out assault on the campus and resulted in the JAs and campus cops running around, but let the perpetrators walk about in full view protesting their innocence even as the fireworks went off.
Oh, we worried about things. We were dimly aware of a rebellion in some place called "Hungry," and the Space Race, and things called "I see BMs" and the Cuban missile crisis. But for two years the Packers played a preseason game in Cedar Rapids, and Tommy Davis stole home in the first game of the World Series against The Hated Yankees; the city built a new swimming pool just two blocks from your home; the Paramount or the RKO Iowa showed double features; there was enough snow every winter to build snow forts and have snowball fights that lasted all day on Saturday; and you could ride no hands all the way to your best friend's house, six blocks away.
Until The Thunderbolt Kid I had thought most of Bryson's characters were literary devices, imaginary artifices contrived to set up a punch line or serve as Bryson's alter ego. But if you didn't know someone as smart as Doug Willoughby or as amiably innebriated as Stephen Katz or as pretty as Mary O'Leary or as hopelessly inept as Milton Milton, you didn't grow up in Iowa. And if you did grow up in Iowa, Hladky's delivered groceries; you could get a real cherry Coke at the soda fountain next door; and when you bent the tie rod on your father's Chevy skidding into a curb on a snowy day, you could take it down to Rapids Chevy and Bill Fletcher would fix it before your parents got back from their trip. It really was a great time to grow up.
It ended, of course. For some it ended in South Vietnam, for others at Kent State or Haight-Ashbury or Woodstock. For some it ended in the First Energy Crisis, or in Watergate, or in stagflation. But if you were fortunate enough to grow up in the 1950s and '60s, it never really ended, because we have people like Bill Bryson to remind us of just how much fun it was to be young and in Iowa. Put this one on the shelf beside A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburnt Country. Just don't make the mistake I did, of reading it in a public place; Americans look at people strangely when they laugh out loud at frequent intervals.