April 19, 2013

On the subject of "A Child Called 'It.'"

The previous post refers to "A Child Called 'It'" — a questionable book that I've only ever read about.
There are no people in [Dave] Pelzer's book, only demons (his mother and grandmother), angels (Pelzer and a few foster parents), and incompetents. Psychological motivation scarcely interests him. He makes only a halfhearted effort to explain his mother's lunacy. The point is the suffering. As the trilogy progresses, Pelzer is forced to increase the dosage of wickedness to top what came before. (Iron law of sequels: They must be bloodier than the original.) His mother becomes more cartoonish, more Cruella De Vil. In the first book, she's horrible but erratic. By the third she is the incarnation of pure, calculating evil, saying things like, "You gave me no pleasure, so you were disposed of."
I just wanted to show you the passages in 2 of my favorite books that allude to "A Child Called 'It.'"

Bill Bryson's "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir" begins this way:
My kid days were pretty good ones, on the whole. My parents were patient and kind and approximately normal. They didn’t chain me in the cellar. They didn’t call me “It.” I was born a boy and allowed to stay that way. My mother, as you’ll see, sent me to school once in Capri pants, but otherwise there was little trauma in my upbringing.
And David Rakoff's "Half Empty" has an essay called "Shrimp" that begins:
Nothing assails the writer’s credibility more than the pleasant childhood. I freely admit to having had one myself. A happy fact reflected sadly in my book sales. And yet I’d sooner do most anything short of putting needles in my eyes than willingly remember what it was like to have been a child. Things were not terrible. I was neither beaten nor abused. No dank cellars or chilly garrets for me. Neither my trust nor my body were violated by a clergyman or a beloved family friend. I was safe and sound.

13 comments:

Nonapod said...

The first thing I thought of in reference to referring to a child as "it" is the classic 1974 horror movie "It's Alive".

I think there's certainly a lot of people who believe that in order to be an interesting writer, artist, or musician you have to have had a screwed up childhood.

edutcher said...

You need to beware anything with a title of "A (fill blank) Called (fill second blank)".

Mitchell the Bat said...

There's more than one way to get fucked up in the head, is how I see it.

Susan Stewart Rich said...

"My mother, as you’ll see, sent me to school once in Capri pants, but otherwise there was little trauma in my upbringing."

Suprised that didn't ruin him. Or did it? Duh, duh, duh . . .

Actually, I've never read any of his stuff but now I'm interested.

Capris are so strange. Long shorts or short pants? I see a fashion disaster every time I see a woman in capris. However, I don't get the same reaction when male bike couriers wear them (so sexist, but so true).

chickelit said...

And yet, das Es, the "Id," the "It," is an appropriate moniker for a child according to Freud.

Ann Althouse said...

They were a brilliant lime green, very tight, and had little slits at the bottom. They only came about three-quarters of the way down my calves. I stared at myself in the back hall mirror in a kind of confused disbelief. I looked like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.

“This can’t be right, Mom,” I said. “These are Betty’s old Capri pants, aren’t they?”

“No, honey,” my mom replied soothingly. “They’re pirate pants. They’re very fashionable. I believe Kookie Kookson wears them on 77 Sunset Strip.”

Kookson, a munificently coiffed star on this popular weekly television show, was a hero to me, and indeed to most people who liked interestingly arranged hair, and he was capable of endearingly strange things, that’s for sure. That’s why they called him Kookie. Even so, this didn’t feel right.

“I don’t think he can, Mom. Because these are girls’ pants.”

“He does, honey.”

“Do you swear to God?”

“Oom,” she said distractedly. “You watch this week. I’m sure he does.”

“But do you swear to God?”

“Oom,” she said again.

Joe said...

I read an article on Pelzer, which included portions of an interview. It also included interviews with his brother and grandmother. It became painfully apparent that Pelzer is on the extreme edge of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (and like all NPDs, he's a sociopath.) Once you see this and understand NPD, the entire "story" begins to make sense, but not in the way Pelzer intended. Major point being that his family, especially his mother, were HIS victims, not the other way around.

Sam L. said...

It's enough to just hear about it to know I don't want to read it.

Bryson, now, I've read, but don't appreciate. He just puts me off.

prairie wind said...

Even as a work of fiction Pelzer's book stinks. Middle school English teachers still insist it is profound, though.

Crunchy Frog said...

A Cousin Called "Itt"

C Stanley said...

I love Bryson but a little goes a long way. Loved A Walk in the Woods and A Short History of Nearly Everything but when I've tried to read a couple of his others I couldn't get through them.

TJIC said...

> like all NPDs, he's a sociopath

According to the DSM, NPD and sociopathy are related but distinct disorders; the list of criteria overlaps only partially.

I know this because I dug into it once, wondering "is acquaintance X a psychopath?", and came away an hour later realizing the answer is "no, but he needs 7 out of 11 to be a narcissist, and he's got 10 out of 11".

Joe said...

TJIC, you are technically correct, but many of us who have spent time studying this (in may due to being married to someone with a cluster 'B' personality) it's distinction without a difference. Much Borderline and Narcissistic behavior is often indistinguishable from sociopathic behavior. I've grown convinced that they ultimately are all simply manifestations of an inability to feel empathy.

However, I should have said that like many NPDs, he's a sociopath.