Author Kevin Brockmeier is about a year and a half younger than I am. As a result, reading his new book, “A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A memoir of seventh grade” (Pantheon, 208 pages, $24), often whisked me back to my own junior high experiences. I loved Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures, too. Or: I listened to Chicago 17 over and over, too.
Or: Hey, I remember
when everyone was gleeking.
But you don’t have to be Brockmeier’s contemporary to appreciate his beautiful reflection on a pivotal school year in his life. A smart, offbeat, nerdy kid with a gift for one-liners and a propensity for tears, the seventh-grade Kevin Brockmeier is a kid we recognize (and that many of us were to one degree or another), and his efforts to understand himself, his friends, and the wider world are wholly familiar.
Brockmeier, an acclaimed fiction writer and a graduate of and current visiting instructor for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, takes an unusual approach to memoir. “A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip” is written in the third person, and yet the book seems more intimate and honest than many a first person recounting of a life.
In the middle of the book, Brockmeier takes a risk, drawing his younger self into a dreamlike sequence that allows for some metaphysical considerations. Here, the author’s substantial powers as a fabulist come into play, and the passage succeeds brilliantly, increasing the emotional power of the text on either side of it.
“A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip” is both an engaging personal story and a significant artistic accomplishment.
Rob Cline is a writer and published author, marketing director for University of Iowa’s Hancher and director of literary events for New Bo Books, a division of Prairie Lights.