Writers whose prose can reliably make me laugh out loud—really, audibly laugh, and not just smile and think “LOL”—are rarer than hen’s teeth. David Sedaris is one. Bill Bryson is definitely another.
I picked up Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid from the Stonington Public Library and it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s hysterical. Bryson, who is the “Thunderbolt Kid” of the title, recounts his life growing up in Iowa during the ‘50s, and no detail is too small to mine for laughs. His Mom’s failed cooking and absent-mindedness, his Dad’s cheapness, the throngs of kids in the neighborhood, his weird relatives, what he ate, what he watched on TV, and disturbing incidents from his youth—like the time his Mom made him wear his sister’s Capri pants to school—all are recalled in hilarious fashion.
And Bryson also artfully weaves in humorous, and interesting, information about the America of the ‘50s, with its passion for cars, television, major appliances, atomic bombs, new products good and bad, and producing more babies to feed that Baby Boom. It was a time when Americans routinely accepted risks without a second glance, doctors advertised cigarettes, every town had its own stores, restaurants, and ways of doing things, and many of the devices and practices that we now take for granted didn’t exist. It’s fascinating stuff about an innocent America that is gone forever and will resonate with people, like me, who really grew up in the ‘60s.
If you think about it, many of us had childhoods that featured failed meals, oddball relatives, strange TV shows, and other topics that could be recounted in a funny way—if we only had the talents of Bill Bryson. Until that happens, I recommend reading this book and enjoying some hearty laughter.