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The Autumn Balloon


The Autumn Balloon

Kenny Porpora’s book, THE AUTUMN BALLOON, is a bitter pill to swallow, especially once you remember that the book is a memoir --- something that must have been much more bitter to experience. The childhood Porpora describes was one lived at a level others shudder to consider --- an alcoholic and abusive mother, a father too old and incompetent to take responsibility for his kids, a family left brittle by the members who died from overdoses with stunning regularity over the years, and a society riddled with holes that children easily slip through. Popora may be a first-time author, but it’s clear that he’s been turning over his story for years, trying to make things make sense and set the events of his life into a coherent narrative.

Kenny is the younger of two boys. He’s sensitive, shy, and an easy target for the kids at school who make fun of his cheap clothes and outsider’s manner. But the turmoil he faces outside of his home is nothing compared to what he faces within it. His mother is a sad and scary drunk who screams at him and mocks him between lapses of consciousness. Though regarded as clever and attractive, she comes from a family of addicts and has never been able to stay pulled together for long. Like many alcoholics, she’s a hurricane of promises and hopeful expectations: she’s good with people, warm with an infectious sense of fun, and quick at figuring things out. So it’s heartbreaking to watch her plunge again and again into bouts of drunkenness and to see how bad decisions often caused by bad circumstances dictate her descent.

"The book’s tone is straightforward and unflinching.... THE AUTUMN BALLOON merits reading, even if the only pleasure you get out of it is getting to know its narrator. That is worth it on its own."

Kenny’s father, meanwhile, appears truly to be both too old and too immature to bear the title. Though very loving towards his children, he’s a powerless man who has never figured out how to make society work for him. For as long as Kenny can remember, his father has been a pathetic figure: singing and shticking at retirement homes where the inhabitants are younger than he is, dyeing his hair with shoe polish and crying on the phone. Though he’s enthusiastically supportive of his two boys, he appears to have very little to offer.

Porpora doesn’t describe his family in such terms. He cycles through episodes that obviously have retained their poignancy over the years, sharing with the reader the things he can’t forget --- wiping his mother’s rear end on the toilet; a dog she improbably procured for him from a television show and cared for its entire life; the time his uncle broke into their apartment and stole their valuables only to show up later with a shocked expression, acting as though he had no idea what had happened.

The book’s tone is straightforward and unflinching. Without appearing judgmental, Porpora records how his mother and brother taunted him for years by calling him nasty names that seem really strong to be directed at a seven-year-old. But while he recognizes that his parents did not fit comfortably into society, he doesn’t see either of them as having failed him. It’s undeniably to his credit that, despite everything he experienced and without a clear screaming “Talent,” he succeeded in putting himself through college and an ivy league graduate school and that he finishes the book with such an undeniably bright future ahead of him. But the most impressive thing is that he seems to be, well, normal. He’s definitely neurotic and idiosyncratic, but also reasonably well-adjusted. His resilience is shocking. Equally so is the fact that the scars of his childhood do not seem to define who he is as a person.

THE AUTUMN BALLOON merits reading, even if the only pleasure you get out of it is getting to know its narrator. That is worth it on its own.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg on March 6, 2015

The Autumn Balloon
by Kenny Porpora

  • Publication Date: February 3, 2015
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455545163
  • ISBN-13: 9781455545162