Writing about one’s childhood is tricky. For one thing, you may have to write about other people, like your parents, and while they are still around to make you feel guilty – especially if you have portrayed them in a less than complimentary light. Eric Poole has deftly handled this problem, we assume, though he continues
(even in the dust jacket blurb) to hide his real identity, and glories in having been called by Tracey Ullman “the best undiscovered writer I’ve ever met.”
If you believe every word of this book
- and why bother, because it’s hilarious whether entirely true or not - Eric grew up tormented by an outrageously obsessive compulsive mother, a weak and spacey but kindly father, and an older sister who made sure he was caught out again and again in his childish perfidies. He was mocked and tortured by, well, everyone at school except a girl with no arms who literally kicked butt to protect Eric. Eric was cursed with a hearing deficit and a very high IQ, two disabilities that made life as an ordinary kid pretty much impossible. At home he had to rake the shag carpeting next to his bed to erase his offending footprints (mother’s orders) and at school he had to dodge the bullies who saw Eric as an easy target and the domineering teachers who were at a loss to understand Eric’s peculiar giftedness.
His refuge was the basement, and his strategy for dealing with problems was to dress up in an old shag bedspread and pretend to be Endora, the witch-mom in his favorite TV show,
Bewitched, in which the house was as spotless as his own mother wished theirs to be “but with a refreshing lack of screaming and crying.” Eric recalls,
“The notion of being able to snap my fingers, wave my hands or twinkle my nose and magically alter the circumstances of life was intoxicating, akin to learning voodoo or having Jesus owe you one.” He would sneak downstairs in the afternoons, don his Endora robe, and indulge in protracted fantasies of solving the dilemmas of his life – not only imagining himself in wildly unrealistic heroic roles, but trying by desperate hope and “magic” to make his parents happier, his sister calmer, his schoolmates less violent, his teachers more forgiving.
Later the magic gave way to a sense of religious fervor as he attempted to put God into the crazy mix. Around that time, he began to discover that he had feelings, powerful feelings, for other boys.
This is the kind of childhood saga that could be tragic if Eric weren’t such a goofball, such a cock-eyed optimistic survivor. Remember, the subtitle of the book is "One Boy's Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting" - so we know Eric will ultimately prevail. He finds out he can do a few things that others can’t, like play in the school band and even shoot a rifle. By the end of the book, the Endora bedspread is put away in a box, preserved by his mother who probably cared more than she showed, and Eric is on the way to some sort of very weird adulthood, realizing that “the magic had to begin with me.”
Maybe he’ll write another book about that. Let’s hope so.