Wrapped Up in Books I: Alternadad

When I turned 27 I resolved to do something I’d resolved to do when I turned 26: Keep a log of the books I read. I find it awfully difficult to recall, instantly, from stuff I’ve read unless I’ve written something down.

So, Book One of my 27th year:

I started reading Pollack seven years ago, when he was still living in Philadelphia, writing for McSweeney’s, and writing stories as a fictional version of himself who had become (in his own mind) America’s Greatest Living Writer. He had a blog where the mask slipped, but only slightly, and he could excoriate left-wingers and right-wingers at the moment when they got the most ridiculous (see “Iraq War, the”).

Anne Lamott, shut up.

And so on. Little did I know that Pollack was expecting a baby boy, that he would move his new family to Austin, and that he would make the leap from “writer that NPR listeners like” to “writer that NPR listeners will buy tickets for at a reading inside a major university” with a book about the mundane wackness of child-rearing. In Alternadad (published a while ago) Pollack drops character and writes movingly about falling in love, buying a home, and raising his son Elijah. His wife loses interest in her artwork. Their son is denied access to a wonderful school and stuck inside one that only looks fit on the surface. There is joy, as Elijah discovers and enjoys some of the music Neal likes. There is tragedy, as father and son join a cultish gymnastics class. There is more tragedy, as the neighborhood the family has moved into is slowly revealed to be a John Carpenter nightmare. But there’s mostly a lot of humor and hope and delirious baby talk.

If I were a young man I’d resent Pollack for no longer being the type of guy who cracks wise about poets and becoming the type who blogs at Parents.com. But I don’t resent him, of course. This is a deeply funny book, touching and wincingly honest, and if there are imitators out there I’d like to read them.