Framing the Dialogue

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Bill Bryson has been one of my favorite authors. I thoroughly enjoy his story telling style and relate to his stories. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir did not disappoint. The book is a memoir of his life growing up in the fifties and sixties. While I was not born until the sixties, I can relate to many of the attitudes from the earlier decade.

I think that everyone would find the stories amusing, but men will identify more closely with the desires and urges of Bryson as he grows up. I especially related to his stories about his dentist, Dr. Brewster. Like Bryson’s dentist, my dentist, Dr. Fisher, also did not believe in using Novocain for dental procedures. I seemed to have a lot of fillings and dreaded visiting Dr. Fisher.

Fisher’s office was next to my school so my parents would excuse me from classes to walk to the dentist’s office. Walking to his office was like walking the plank. I knew there was pain at the end of the journey. I can still feel the white-knuckled pain as I gripped the handles of the dentist chair as he drilled and drilled and drilled.

I remember years later when I went to a “real” dentist and he remarked on the number of fillings. He wanted to start replacing my fillings, as they were no longer effective. This was the first time that I was offered Novocain and I was in college. Things only got better as my current dentist even numbs my gums with clove oil before injecting. That’s painless. I often wonder whether Dr. Fischer was a little masochistic.

Mr. Bryson unfortunately lets politics trickle into his stories. You probably would not be surprised to find out that he may be a liberal. There were only a few occasions, but I they really took away from the book. I do not shy away from political books, but I do not like to mix pleasure with politics as Bryson indulges himself.

It is not even the politics, but the biased nature of his remarks. Within consecutive paragraphs he rails about “Joseph R. McCarthy, Republican senator from Wisconsin” and his mission to expose communists in America. In the very next paragraph he talks about congressman John Rankin from Mississippi who “brought additional prejudices into play…Against such men, McCarthy looked almost moderate and fairly sane.”

Bryson did not mention which political party Rankin belonged. He was a DEMOCRAT. Was that a slip or bias? It took me 20 seconds to find out his party affiliation on the Internet. He did it again later in the book as he described, “Republicans – Nixon Republicans – and so didn’t subscribe to the notion that laws are supposed to apply to all people equally.” I found this an odd reference to include in a book about the 1950’s.  Maybe he could have also referenced Democrats – Clinton Democrats – whose President admitted to perjury.

It was third reference that showed his prejudice as he discussed doomsday scenarios portrayed in many movies about flying saucer attacking Earth, giant mutated insects, or monsters from the deep. “I don’t imagine that many people, even those who now faithfully vote Republican, believed that any of that would actually happen.”

I have to wonder why an author would insult half the population of America, half of his potential customers. Is his arrogance so blind? Does he really believe the stereotypes that anyone who votes Republican is prejudiced, dumb, and rednecks? Bryson currently lives in England with his wife and children. I wonder if he is still a citizen of the United States?

All in all, I enjoyed 99.99% of the book.  It is worth reading.

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