Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: A Thinking Man's Bully by Michael Adelberg

The book: A Thinking Man's Bully
The author: Michael Adelberg
The publisher: The Permanent Press

I am very conflicted when it comes to A Thinking Man's Bully. There were many aspects of the book that I loved and many that I hated. I was very eager to read this book, so it makes me a bit sad to leave it feeling so unsettled.

Summary: Matt Duffy was a childhood bully who was friends with another child bully who committed suicide. Now, his own son has become a bully. But it's not until his wife urges him to seek a therapist after his son also attempts suicide, is he able to see where he fits into the scheme of things.Through a series of "stories" written to his therapist, Duffy faces his demons for the first time in his life.


What I loved: The premise - I was bullied in school and was very interested to hear stories from the opposite point of view; the writing - Michael Adelberg has a talent for visualization without flowering up the prose. I don't feel like he wasted any of my time with useless words.

And that's about it.

What annoyed me: When I think of A Thinking Man's Bully, it brings back bitter memories of when I read Memoirs of a Geisha. With Memoirs of a Geisha, I actually finished the whole book before I realized that even though the whole book was set up as a memoir, and titled as one, it was a complete work of fiction. I was angry. I felt lied to. And I feel similar frustrations with A Thinking Man's Bully. Now, I realized early on that it was indeed fiction, however, not until after I was a little into the book. Sure, if I had paid more attention to the cover synopsis clearly stating the main character's name, which is drastically different than that of the author, of course I would have connected it. But often, I don't really read the backs of books completely, an since this was a book I won on Goodreads.com, it wasn't like I went to the store and selected it based on what it was about.

My point in mentioning this is that without noticing the difference in names, the fact that this is NOT non-fiction is not made apparent AT ALL. First, it is set up with a table of contents which are typically not found in fiction books. Second, the story is told as "memory stories" to the narrator's therapist, where the narrator makes a point to highlight in separate sections his discussions with the therapist. Third, there are numerous mentions of the narrator "writing this book". In non-fiction you are keenly aware that you are reading a book, and that is okay. With fiction however, I absolutely do not want to be reminded on a continual basis that I'm reading a book. It shocks the mind out of the story and the whole "feel" of the story is gone. It completely ruined the book for me.

Other small annoyances:
*The cover is unflattering at best. Thankfully a crappy cover isn't going to stop me from reading a great book, but a great cover will definitely GET me to read a crappy book. Just sayin'.

* The title - I realize the title was suppose to sum up all the bullies into a cozy one-liner, but the inaccuracy of the title bugs me. The title refers to self-chosen nickname for a specific character in the book, and one who I believe doesn't have a remotely large enough part in the book, as implied in the synopsis.

*The chats with the therapist - Like a previous reviewer noted, the stories are great. The therapist chats? Not so much. I felt they were boring and too easy. The narrator is a tough man, not prone to talking about his feelings. Yet, just a couple visits into the tale and he's spouting off psychoanalysis jargon like he is the shrink and not the patient. Sure, eventually the patient will get the idea of how the therapist wants them to retrain their thinking... but it was too soon, too easy. I would expect him to fight against the therapist's demands much harder than he did.

In all, this was a good book by a wonderful storyteller, but the plot setup, cover, and some character interactions left the book feeling flat and, at times, unbelievable.

Verdict: 2 Stars

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