I mentioned in our Best Books of the Year so far post that “If I’d had a week longer, I would have been able to list a tremendous memoir which we’ll be featuring here shortly.” Well, it’s been shortly, and here it is: Keven Brockmeier’s A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip. As a mention below, in a lot of ways, this is a pretty risky memoir–focusing on 7th grade, telling it in the 3rd person, and introducing a strange metafictional interlude at the mid-point. But it’s also possible that readers may miss all of this entirely, especially if they don’t realize that it is a memoir, because it reads equally well as a coming-of-age novel. However one reads it, it is absolutely perfect for teens (indeed, perhaps more perfect for teens than adults), especially teens in that tragic part of life called Middle School.
*BROCKMEIER, Kevin. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of the Seventh Grade. 208p. Pantheon. Apr. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN 9780307908988. LC 22013031895.
In this masterful memoir, Brockmeier takes three significant narrative risks, any one of which could have opened him up to charges of gimmickry, trivialization, or both, but which together combine to produce a moving portrait of young adolescence. In the realm of gimmickry is Brockmeier’s odd decision to tell his story in the third person—a trick which might have gotten old quickly but for his second strange decision: to limit the scope of his memoir to his year as a seventh-grader. These two narrative tools give the memoir the feel and shape of a novel, but could have resulted in a very trivial book indeed were it not for Brockmeier’s third narrative risk: an incredibly gimmicky break into the realm of metafiction at the book’s midway point, in which contemporary Kevin freezes time to discuss young Kevin’s life, and whether he would have wanted never to have been born. It’s a play straight out of It’s a Wonderful Life, but it works beautifully to give thematic heft to the memoir, showing readers just how crucial this one year in Brockmeier’s life was: his self-consciousness came to a crucial breaking point; almost all of his friends turned on him, bullying him mercilessly; and yet he began to come into his own as a writer. The moment of metafiction represents what truly was a turning point in Brockmeier’s life, and anyone who suffered through middle school in self-doubt or was bullied, will find Brockmeier’s story emotionally resonant and ultimately optimistic.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA