Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence

by Paul Feig
278 pages,
ISBN: 0609809431

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Brief Reviews
by Ryan Bigge

A few chapters into Kick Me, Paul Feig refers to the song "Number Three" by They Might Be Giants. Feig's brief, eight-verse flirtation with poetic inspiration in Third Grade reminds him of the lyrics "There's only two songs in me / and I just wrote the third."
It would be cruel and inaccurate to suggest that Feig has only two essays in him, but it is fair to say that this memoir of his childhood bleeds filler like a cheap plush toy. The shoddy stitching is a shame, because the debut chapter of Kick Me offers promise, based in large part on a cunning, clever and¨rather important in a humour book¨funny observation about school-boy culture:
"Anything you did could cause you to be labeled a 'fag.' If you carried a lunchbox, you were a fag. If you wore a wool cap on a cold day, you were a fag. If you carried your books in a knapsack, you were a fag. It all added up to fag. The only time you weren't a fag was when you were calling somebody else a fag."
By the time the book concludes, however, it is too easy to forget these and other glimpses of talent, because the reader has spent so much effort chewing on the bits in-between, making most of this memoir the written equivalent of styrofoam packing peanuts. Feig dedicates not one, but two chapters to his first day of junior high gym class. Over those 30-plus pages, we learn that a young, timid Feig was the target of bullies, didn't enjoy dodgeball and was scared to take a shower with his fellow classmates.
The subject matter of many of Feig's essays can be distilled to similar essences and the language he uses to describe his past is often as simple. His sloppy use of hyperbole is a writing habit he most urgently needs to lose. When Feig finds himself on the receiving end of a dogpile he suggests that, "I knew what a gazelle must feel as it's being killed by a pack of lions."
Where to begin? First and foremost the zinger lacks zest¨it isn't very funny. Second, the dying gazelle metaphor, like so many in his book, isn't fresh or crisp, a dangerous shortcoming for a humour book, which relies on clever wordplay. Finally, the analogy is shoddy, because Feig isn't being killed, he's being squished. Substituting his gazelle line with "I felt like a chunk of carbon being trash-compacted into a diamond," is one humble example of how an editor could have reworked Feig's material.
Sadly, Feig has decided to exact revenge upon his school-yard tormentors (and anyone else who reads this book) by dogpiling extraneous sentence upon extraneous sentence. This technique ruins the pacing of many reminiscences and results in Feig stepping on the joke. By the time his denouements about Little League or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or school bus drivers arrive, they are pale and anti-climatic.
Kick Me has two major themes. The first is that Feig was geeky. The second is that he liked girls. Feig overlooks the fact that he is not the only person in the history of the American public school system to suffer from both afflictions. Feig's experiences are often one degree shy of ordinary, and unlike humour writer David Sedaris, who is a virtuoso at finding transcendence in his growing pains (witness his incredible memoir Naked), Feig lacks the skill to provoke more than a "gee, too bad" in the reader. Feig's narrative also lacks the descriptive detail to make his geekiness come to life. In one essay he makes casual mention of his fellow male geek friends, but never delves into their habits and appearance to better mirror his own quirks. (And, oddly for a self-described geek, Feig ends up with a date for the Senior Prom).
To paraphrase humour writer Ian Frazier only slightly, "The ability to make a reader laugh out loud is as remarkable as being able to hit a major-league curve ball, although statistically more rare." Kick Me shows that Feig needs to spend more time in the batting cage.˛

Ryan Bigge is a Toronto-based freelance writer and author of A Very Lonely Planet (Arsenal Pulp, 2001).

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