America's Boy: A Memoir - Rouse, Wade
In the tradition of such quirky and smart coming-of-age memoirs as Augusten Burroughs's Running with Scissors and Haven Kimmel's A Girl Named Zippy, America's Boy is an arresting and funny tale of growing up different in America's heartland.
Wade didn't quite fit in. While schoolmates had crewcuts and wore Wrangler jeans, Wade styled his hair in imitation of Robbie Benson circa Ice Castles and shopped in the Sears husky section. Wade's father insisted on calling everyone “honey”—even male gas station attendants. His mother punctuated her conversations with “WHAT?!” and constantly answered herself as though she was being cross-examined. He goes to school with a pack of kids called goat ropers who make the boys from Deliverance look like honor students. And he both loved and hated his perfect older brother.
While other families traveled to Florida and Hawaii for vacation, Wade's family packed their clothes in garbage bags and drove to their log cabin on Sugar Creek in the Missouri Ozarks. And it is here that Wade found refuge from his everyday struggle to fit in—until a sudden, terrible accident on the Fourth of July took his brother's life and changed everything.
Equally nostalgic, poignant, funny, and compelling, this is a story of what it is to be normal, what it means to fit in, and what it means to be yourself.
The tacky environs of the Missouri Ozarks in the 1970s set in relief a budding gay sensibility in this funny, affecting, overripe memoir. Wearing his mother's bikini and pearls to a mock beauty pageant at age five, winning office in his high school's Future Homemakers club, feigning romantic interest in a string of female beards, Rouse was hopelessly out of step with the redneck masculinity urged on him by taunting classmates and despairing relatives. Fortunately, he had a charmingly offbeat family, led by two warmhearted grandmothers, who accepted him as he was (without asking too many questions) and left him with a trove of glowing memories. The plight of a queer soul fighting for life in rural America is familiar literary terrain, and Rouse renders it as a duel between flamboyant camp and white-trash kitsch. He amplifies his inner turmoil with a weepy confessional tone, obsessing about his compulsive overeating, body issues, hair issues and gross bathroom issues, and sobbing endlessly over emotional travails. In the end, the narrative lapses into a clich d coming-out melodrama. But when Rouse looks away from the mirror to the people around him, the book comes alive with tender portraits of kitsch and kin. Photos. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
WADE ROUSE is a public-relations director at one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious private schools. He is also a journalist whose articles have appeared in The Chicago Reader and The St. Louis Riverfront Times.