Sooner or later everyone has to grow up…right?
That's the major thematic inquiry that hangs over each page of Jim Gladstone's THE BIG BOOK OF MISUNDERSTANDING.
In the third sentence of the book, the narrator, 20-something Josh Royalton, poses the ominous question: Did I have to end my life to end my childhood? And then, in a sometimes caustic but mostly humorous fashion, he tells us his entire life story. The tales seem archetypal at first: there are stuffed animals that come alive at night to frighten him; wrestling sessions with his more agile, stronger sibling, Lew; and goodnight rituals with his mom and dad, Becca and Harris Royalton. Some of Gladstone's most touching passages are in these early pages, when Joseph looks back with delight on being a middle-class child in a suburb of Philadelphia. The reminiscences are recognizable to anyone who grew up in middle-class America. In fact, they are almost universally recognizable. However, don't get too comfortable --- all is not Norman Rockwell in the Royalton abode.
The oldest of two sons, living in a household with an ever present sexually-charged parental energy that would make any child uncomfortable, Josh is four when we first meet him and his sense of humor. But Gladstone's real comedic genius lies in Josh's high school and college recollections and observations --- a few true, a few constructed, and most told in brief passages that each pack the punch of some of today's best short stories. (Think David Sedaris.)
A budding homosexual, Josh tries to convince himself that it's only natural to have fantasies about his male playmates, after all, he reasons and desires, they're having the same dreams about him, aren't they? He gets his adolescent, horny hands on a copy of EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX and finds the chapter on masturbation provides "enormous relief." Once, he recalls, he wrote a horrendous poem