A Thinking Man’s Bully is basically a collection of tales told by the protagonist, Matt “McDuff” Duffy, to his therapist in the wake of his son’s attempted suicide. Actually, “told” is something of a misnomer. They are actually written stories submitted to his shrink in the course of therapy, because he – like oh-so-many men – can’t talk about feelings, emotions, or self-reflection. It’s a clever strategy, and fits the burgeoning writer inside of McDuff fine. It’s also clever story organization, and fits the burgeoning writer inside of me fine as well.
I don’t particularly care for McDuff’s brand of man: a bit of a follower, a little too focused on being a tough guy, a little carefree and lackadaisical about the emotions and emotional needs of the people around him. He was a troublemaker and a bully, and basically raised his son to be the same – and then when his son attempted to take his own life (as did McDuff’s “best friend” in high school), well, everything sort of crumpled apart.
The tales of high school hijinks and machismo were well-written and easy to read, if not particularly easy for me to stomach. Adelberg’s writing style is as easy-going as his protagonist. I didn’t like many of the main characters all that much – but I didn’t have to. The stories were not my usual fare, but were well-presented and very real.
There isn’t a huge “a-ha!” moment; McDuff doesn’t go from a Beavis-and-Butthead-as-parenting-guide dad to Mister Rogers overnight – or even over the course of the entire book. That’s fine. I wouldn’t have bought it if he had. He did make a few (painful) self-realizations along the way though, and that was enough to keep the story believable and to redeem him at least a little in my eyes.
A former corporate attorney and government relations/health policy executive, Jill-Elizabeth walked away from that world (well, skipped actually) and toward a more literary life (equally challenging, but infinitely more enjoyable). If you enjoyed this review, please visit her at Jill-Elizabeth.com, the official home of All Things Jill-Elizabeth – that is, all of the teehees, musings, rants, book reviews, writing exercises, and witticisms of her burgeoning writing career.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Permanent Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.