Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Where's My Wand: One Boy's Magical Triumph Over Alienation and Shag Carpeting
New York, Berkley Books, 2010
292 pages Memoir
Where’s My Wand? is a coming of age memoir that is very true, very poignant, and very hopeful, while at the same time very funny. Eric Poole grew up in St. Louis in the 1970s, and the book begins in 1969 when Eric is 8, his older sister, Val, is 12, and their parents are on the verge of splitting up. In order to try to control a family life spinning out of control, Eric dons an old chenille bedspread and pretends to be Eudora from his favorite TV show, Bewitched. When his parents don’t separate, Eric connects the chenille bedspread to the kind of magic Eudora makes, and he thinks that it is this magic that has controlled the events. Thereafter whenever things go wrong, out comes the bedspread, and more magic happens.
Later in his childhood he begins to connect this wishing with prayer and the magic with God. Ah, he thinks, God is indeed calling the shots for his family. Of course, everything doesn’t always go Eric’s way leading to some questioning of divine intervention and indeed, the very existence of a supreme being.
The stories, while very funny, all ring true. Even though the family is slightly dysfunctional, they are close-knit, church-going, and supportive of each other. Mother, who Eric described as “bag lady Macbeth” is driven obsessively to provide a “perfect” home for her family, to the point of raking the shag carpeting and declaring the living room off-limits. Father understands that this obsessive need Mother has for cleanliness and perfection is the result of her own less-than-perfect childhood, and while he is supportive, he has his own moments of rebellion. The children seem oblivious to these dynamics, because they are so involved in their own life dramas.
For Eric, the drama is the daily bullying that comes from being both smart and effeminate. He finds a champion and defender in Stacey, a scrappy girl who was born with no arms. Later, he gains prestige as a good trumpet player, and slowly but surely, he finds strength in himself and an understanding that we each are capable of controlling our own destiny by drawing from our own strength. With that understanding, the chenille bedspread gets donated, and Eric thrives on his own magic. He says, “I was, I realized, beginning to discover a new kind of magic, one that came from within. I still believed that God and I were a team, but the magic had to begin with me.”
My favorite story in Where's My Wand? concerns a church friend named Billy who comes for an overnight. Eric finds himself attracted to Billy in ways he can’t understand. But having just seen a movie at church on the evils of homosexuality, Eric thinks that maybe Billy is gay, and it is up to him to save Billy from this unfortunate fate. At the same time you are laughing at the ridiculousness of the story, you are relating to the anxiety that Eric must be experiencing as a Baptist boy in 1970s St. Louis realizing that he is gay.
Many of Poole’s stories are very funny. Yet all the stories have aspects of hopefulness that are often lacking in coming-of-age memoirs. This is not a child of drug-addicted, alcoholic, crazy parents left to overcome horrendous odds. This book is certainly not Running with Scissors or The Glass Castle. It is more like the stories of David Sedaris, without the sarcasm. The humor has a sincerity to it that pleases. The reviewer in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer put it succinctly: “less observational and more transformational.”
I just read a posting on Eric Poole’s blog for the “It Gets Better Project.” Among the tips he gives for gay youth trying to get through the hardest time of their lives, is to find “your posse.” He says, “I was a total band nerd. And while playing the trumpet didn’t do that much for my popularity in school as a whole, it gave me a place to be myself.” I can say that as a parent helping my children navigate the ugly waters of middle and high school, I wanted desperately for my children to find a fit. Each found their niche; but for all of them, band played a big part in helping them get through middle school.
I liked Eric as a child in Where’s My Wand? and having watched a YouTube video of him reading from his book, I think I would like him as an adult.
I received this book from the publicist, and I can highly recommend it. One of my favorite bloggers, The Book Lady, mentions that the genre of coming of age memoirs is getting a little tedious, but at the same time she says, “This is a coming-of-age memoir about more than the author’s quirks and his family’s dysfunctions. The shift in focus onto personal development and away from budding sexuality gives Where’s My Wand? added depth and makes it feel fresh and new in a genre that is quickly becoming stale, and Poole presents his life lessons—which, if not handled well, could come off as trite or saccharine—with sensitivity and insight.”
The Book Lady’s review: http://www.thebookladysblog.com/2010/07/15/book-review-wheres-my-wand-by-eric-poole/
An interview in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/An-Interview-With-Eric-Poole-Author-of-Where-s-899341.phpEric Poole’s website: http://www.ericpoole.net/