Title: Jack in the Box
Author: William Kotzwinkle
Date of publication: 1980, Abacus edition 1981
Back cover blurb: 'Can a young man from a small mining town find happiness as a human being? Can Jack Twiller, his mind warped by Masked Man, Tailspin, Tommy and Secret Agent X-9, ever abandon the comic book heroes of his youth and find true maturity? Does he even want to?
A hilarious odyssey through American comic-book culture of the 40s, Jack's story is witty, nostalgic and real. In this brilliant and original novel William Kotzwinkle confirms his reputation as one of the most exciting of the younger generation of American writers.'
Reading reveals: Last entry I made an attempt to read the irredeemably awful E.T. The Book of the Green Planet. Despite the book's startling lack of merit, I was nevertheless curious as to how established author Kotzwinkle got the E.T. gig, and so read one of his earlier works. Although he is generally a fantasy/sci-fi writer, Jack in the Box is a coming-of-age tale, and weirdly enough it's very good indeed.
Each chapter moving on the narrative with a jump of months or years, the passing time unacknowledged in the text, Kotzwinkle manages to convincingly capture the various states of mind from child to adolescent, as his young protagonist Jack Twiller grows from playing cowboy games in the street on to drunken house parties as a rock 'n' roll greaser. There's one particular moment that captures the first stage in the death of childhood, where Twiller finds he can no longer play, that is one of the truest things I have read in fiction for a very long time. There's also a scout camp from Hell, and confusion about the manliness of vomiting that pre-dates Alan Partridge,
You can see why Spielberg sought him out. Both have an intense understanding of childhood and its joys and fears. Shame that the meeting of minds didn't work out better.
Random paragraph: 'They went straight to the place where Spider had been going up and down on Nancy. Crutch stared at the sandy grass. "I thought you had to do it on a flat rock."'