I'm a fan of Nathan Rabin -- really, of all the critics at The Onion AV Club. There's no source I trust more, not because I always agree but because I know exactly where they stand. In 500 words of praise or pan, I can get an exact, nearly unerring sense of whether I'd like something or not.
Nathan Rabin always stood out, even before he wrote his life story, because he's a passionate movie buff -- particularly of campy trash -- and also a passionate hip-hop buff. A former video store clerk, he truly knows his stuff, and he's at his best in those 500-word reviews, insightful, funny, and succinct, with an unceasing supply of one-liners and a knack for a turn of phrase. But as good as he is in those reviews, he's sloppy and unrestrained in his blogs, with ten bad jokes for every good one, leaving a distinct impression that he's at his best with an unforgiving editor and a strict word limit.
Unfortunately, his memoir, The Big Rewind, reads more like his blogs. He's got a compelling story to tell, growing up in a broken home with a multiple-sclerotic father and without the mother who abandoned him, then enduring stays in a mental hospital, group home,
and debauched college co-op in Madison, Wisconsin, where he managed to start writing for the Onion almost by chance. He's admirably emotionally honest, and self-aware enough to admit that his perpetual stream of sarcasm started out as a defense mechanism in his childhood, but he's not able to curb the bad jokes in the midst of his most painful memories. While it may have made it easier to write, it's a lot harder to read. Emotional honesty is a lot harder to take seriously when you constantly undercut it by using the same hoary one-liners and jokes from Mr. Show.
Despite the book's flaws, Rabin's got a great story, a winning personality, and he doesn't pull punches when discussing his own life. Unlike many memoirs which are only fitfully emotionally
honest (like Richard Pryor's Pryor Convictions), Rabin puts it all on the page. Most memoirs are underwritten; his is overwritten. There's a great book inside this good book if can you read around all the bad jokes.
Crossposted at Remingtonstein.
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