There’s a book out called Is There Life After High School? It’s a fairly silly book, maybe because the subject matter is the kind that only hurts when you think. Its thesis—that most people never get over the social triumphs or humiliations of high school—is not novel. Still, I read it with the respectful attention a serious hypochondriac accords the lowliest “dear doctor” column. I don’t know about most people, but for me, forgiving my parents for real and imagined derelictions has been easy compared to forgiving myself for being a teenage reject.
Victims of high school trauma—which seems to have afflicted a disproportionate number of writers, including Ralph Keyes, the author of this book—tend to embrace the ugly duckling myth of adolescent social relations: the “innies” (Keyes’s term) are good-looking, athletic mediocrities who will never amount to much, while the “outies” are intelligent, sensitive, creative individuals who will do great things in an effort to make up for their early defeats. Keyes is partial to this myth. He has fun with celebrity anecdotes: Kurt Vonnegut receiving a body-building course as a “gag prize” at a dance; Frank Zappa yelling “fuck you” at a cheerleader; Mike Nichols, as a nightclub comedian, insulting a fan—an erstwhile overbearing classmate turned used-car salesman. In contrast, the ex–prom queens and kings he interviews slink through life, hiding their pasts lest someone call them “dumb jock” or “cheerleader type,” perpetually wondering what to do for an encore.