I read books, I write about books, I would probably marry a book if I could find one who liked me enough. Three words to describe me mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four...
Did you ever get bullied at school? Of course you did, we all did. But did you ever consider tracking down your bully, years later, and finding out how life had treated them since? Allen Kurzweil wrote a book about just that. Keith Rawson's review reveals that far from being a rich kid sob story, this is a weirder and far more complicated tale.
Novelist, educator, journalist, and inventor, Allen Kurzweil.
Wealthy tow-head boy of privilege goes to exclusive Swiss boarding school because of his dead father’s obsession with Switzerland only to have the shit beaten out of him daily by a sadistic bully. Said boy then spends the next forty years obsessing on the bully.
Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson, Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
Allen Kurzweil, child of immense privilege who becomes a renowned public intellectual.
I don’t know, as a kid Kurzweil would be portrayed by some adorable moppet. As an adult, Ewan McGregor.
The book takes place all over the world, so yes to some, no to others.
My mother warehoused me in Aiglon while she was test-driving her third husband.
I’ll be the first to admit it, I have a built-in prejudice to the problems of the idle rich. I know, I know, they’re people just like the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us, the idle rich have the ability to buy themselves out of their problems.
This is also my beef with most of the creative memoirs that have flooded the literary landscape since the success of Augusten Burroughs Running with Scissors way back in 2002. Most of them have been written by formerly upper middle class suburban kids who happen to come from wacky, drug/alcohol/mentally unhealthy families with loads and loads of money that softens the blows of their parents wackiness. Yes, like most children of abnormal upbringings, they are scared and end up being just as weird and wacky as their parents, but with a self-conscious need to not reproduce the mental foibles of their elders.
And, of course, they somehow get book deals in recounting the “troubles” they suffered as children.
Unfortunately, I kind of approached Whipping Boy with the same attitude as I have with so many other "rich kids with problems" memoirs. In my reading of the early, slightly horrifying chapters of Whipping Boy, I kept thinking to myself: Man, why doesn’t this kid just call his globe-trotting mom and tell her to transfer him to another exclusive Swiss boarding school instead of taking so much shit from this asshole Cesar Augustus?
But the major difference between Whipping Boy and most "rich kids with problems" memoirs is that it’s actually an engaging and at times harrowing read that is as much top-tier investigative journalism as it is memoir. Kurzweil’s journey into finding out of what happened to his adolescent tormentor is both funny, heart-breaking, and populated with characters that seem like they popped out of pulp novels as opposed to being living, breathing human beings.
Yes, I did unfairly prejudge Whipping Boy, but I’ll flat out recant my judgment because it is far from a "woe is me while wiping away the tears with hundred dollar bills" kind of story. It is, instead, a vastly entertaining book of one man’s obsession and how childhood cruelty can both scar and drive us.