Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Where's My Wand? One Boy's Magical Triump over Alienation and Shag Carpeting" by Eric Poole

"Perhaps it was my parents' relationship - which seemed to be devolving into nightly performances of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? sans the Edward Albee script and intermissions - that sparked my interest in magic. Perhaps it was because my new third-grade teacher, a sadist in stilettos named Mrs. Locke, had it in for me. Today, Mrs. Locke would be able to positively channel her aggression into a career as a bounty hunter or an Attica prison guard, but in 1969, her only outlet was a group of unsuspecting third-graders, and one in particular. Whatever the cause, I worshipped the TV show Bewitched. The notion of being able to snap my fingers, wave my hands, or twinkle my nose and magically alter the circumstances of life was intoxicating, akin to learning voodoo or having Jesus owe you one."

From an early age, Eric Poole was obsessed with Endora of TV's Bewitched. Just days after his family's Pontiac pulled into the driveway of the Pooles' new home in St. Louis, Missouri, eight-year-old Eric had staked out the basement as his special place: a spot where he could secretly perform magical incantations, draped in a flowing white bedspread he furtively hoped his compulsive mother wouldn't miss. At every rocky moment in his life, or when he was desperate to change future events before they could unfold, Eric would turn to his magical tools, close his eyes tight, and try to make everything all right. From his friendship with a fearless girl who has no arms, to his attempt to perform an exorcism on the cute boy in his Vacation Bible School, to his anxiety that his magical wish to be superior has caused the death of a family friend, Eric Poole's stories take you into the mind of someone trying to make sense of the world and his place in it. Where's My Wand? follows Eric from childhood through adolescence - a journey in which the magic in his life slowly morphs from childhood wonder to religious dogma to, finally, the grown-up understanding that the real, true magic is believing in yourself.

Can I just tell how much I loved this book? I don't know if it was reading about the 60s and 70s that made me nostalgic for my childhood (highly doubtful), or the family dynamics (more likely), or the wonderfully touching story of a young child searching for friends and being snubbed at almost every turn (BINGO!) but something really resonated with me while reading this hopefully introductory work from Poole.

The above blurbs from the dust jacket should pretty much give you all the information you need. I will say that I thought the book was going to be a lot more about Poole growing up in this time period as a young gay man, how that would make him feel isolated, how hard it would be to come to terms with those feelings, etc. But the sexuality issue is barely touched upon, except for one very hilarious scene where Eric tries to "exorcise" a "demon" from his friend that he's made through church. Even then, I got the impression that his intentions were still honorable; he thought his friend was possessed because he found himself attracted to this new friend, and that couldn't be because there was anything wrong with him, Eric.

The other thing that I thought was interesting was his relationship with his mother; it pretty much blows all the old stereotypes right out of the water. His mother does not dote on him, nor are they particularly close. (She does stand up for him in one completely brilliant scene, which made me like her a bit more). On the other hand, he and his father do seem quite close, and take an annual trip every year to have the family car worked on by an old friend of Eric's dad. They get to ride the bus (not Greyhound, as it's a bit too pricey), stay in a nice motel (12 stories!) and spend some time together without having to worry about raking the shag carpet back into pristine condition (yep, that would be Eric's mother's OCD rearing it's ugly head).

There are some strong family dynamics here, and I learned a lot more about the Baptist faith than I knew before. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a touching story about growing up as a nerd/loner, as well as anyone who wants a good laugh. I sincerely hope that Poole has another book in the works, as I would love to read about his life again.

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