Read Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn Online


This eighties-centric, Ritalin-fueled, pitch-perfect comic novel by a writer to watch brings energy and originality to the classic Midwestern coming-of-age story.Meet Justin Cobb, "the King Kong of oral obsessives" (as his dentist dubs him) and the most appealingly bright and screwed-up fictional adolescent since Holden Caulfield donned his hunter's cap. For years, no remeThis eighties-centric, Ritalin-fueled, pitch-perfect comic novel by a writer to watch brings energy and originality to the classic Midwestern coming-of-age story.Meet Justin Cobb, "the King Kong of oral obsessives" (as his dentist dubs him) and the most appealingly bright and screwed-up fictional adolescent since Holden Caulfield donned his hunter's cap. For years, no remedy--not orthodontia, not the escalating threats of his father, Mike, a washed-out linebacker turned sporting goods entrepreneur, not the noxious cayenne pepper-based Suk-No-Mor--can cure Justin's thumbsucking habit.Then a course of hypnosis seemingly does the trick, but true to the conservation of neurotic energy, the problem doesn't so much disappear as relocate. Sex, substance abuse, speech team, fly-fishing, honest work, even Mormonism--Justin throws himself into each pursuit with a hyperactive energy that even his daily Ritalin dose does little to blunt.Each time, however, he discovers that there is no escaping the unruly imperatives of his self and the confines of his deeply eccentric family. The only "cure" for the adolescent condition is time and distance.Always funny, sometimes hilariously so, occasionally poignant, and even disturbing, deeply wise on the vexed subject of fathers and sons, Walter Kirn's Thumbsucker is an utterly fresh and all-American take on the painful process of growing up....

Title : Thumbsucker
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780385497091
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 300 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Thumbsucker Reviews

  • Karis
    2019-02-28 07:12

    I have tried to like Walter Kirn time and time again. I feel like I should like him: he is from Minnesota (and frequently sets his novels and other writings there), his writing often is on topics I am interested in and the literary world just seems to love him. However, something about his work just strikes me the wrong way. So I decided I would give his writing one more try with "Thumbsucker". And once again, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended). Kirn takes the reader along a young adult's (Justin Cobb) journey through oral fixations (thumbsucking, debate, pills, evangelism etc, etc) and the reciprocal effect between these fixations and his family. I realized about halfway through the book this novel would leave me with the same dissatisfied feeling I always have after reading Kirn's work, so I decided to finish the novel and try to determine what exactly rubs me the wrong way, and why everyone else seems to love him so much. Here is what I like: Kirn has a really masterful way of making everyday dialogue allude to larger issues. Case in point: Justins' mother (Audrey) works at a local, nationally-acclaimed rehab facility that happens to be a haven for celebrities (I imagine inspired by Hazelden) for a brief period of time in the book. Justin is threatened by this, and believes his mother may leave the family for a celebrity patient. Here are a few quotes from the conversation that struck me:"I'm a mine, not a yours. I have an inside. And that inside has boundaries. You can't just barge right in.""Drama. They're all hooked on drama," she said. "Look at me. Love me. That's the real addiction. We're all in pain, but they make a big show of it. And we eat it up. The so-called little people. Which is what keeps us little I suppose."Here is what I don't like: when given the choice, Kirn takes the cynical way out. As an eternal optimist, his constant default to failure and the dregs of society simply gets old. Just because you reject the homogenization of positive plots, themes and characters that can clog bestselling lists, doesn't mean the total opposite is any more true to life. However, if you are a big fan of Kirn's work, let me know! I am very interested in why people enjoy his writing.

  • Sheri
    2019-03-05 08:33

    I really liked it. It was almost more of a series of vignettes than a novel, but it flowed nicely and was in chronological order.Justin is very likable as a main character, even though he is a jerk sometimes. And, ultimately the book is full of funny descriptions and back-hand comments like: "At fourteen, I had the physique of a sperm: an enormous oval head trailing a skinny, tapering body".I enjoyed Kirn's depictions of the dysfunctional (but still functioning) family: "That was what Mike called our family: you people. It made me feel like an intruder in his life." and "there was no way to get around the feeling that everyone's in the middle of his own life and at the edge of everybody else's." for example.As a child of the 80s (although Justin is a bit older than me), I liked some of the fun 80s references. I thought the ADD/Ritalin stuff might be over the top (but relevant after having just read Delivered from Distraction and having lots of ADD conversations here). I wasn't that interested in the Mormonism, but found his tongue-in-cheek commentary (especially about Opal as a semi-prostitute for God) to be funny. I think my favorite quote was Justin's warning that "When people try to quit things, other things take their places."Overall it was funny, there were some poignant moments, and even though the plot was rambling it kept me entertained and interested.

  • Doug
    2019-02-22 12:21

    I was reading this book on the subway one morning and I glanced up at this middle-aged man across from me reading some book by James Patterson. I scoffed at this man because, hey dude, I read literature.But do I? Approximately two hours of almost every day of my life I stand in a subway car as it carts me off to and from a job I hate and another day closer to death, and I spent several of those hours reading a piece of fluff called Thumbsucker that I'm only reading because I found it on the street and I remember the movie from the early 00s [pronounced 'ooze'] that I didn't even really like. The book itself is okay, but it's just okay: I wasn't challenged or rewarded; I didn't learn anything; it was easy to read...Not that books need to be challenging or rewarding or teach you something or unreadable, I guess, but why not? I'm going to forget I read this book in a few weeks just like I mostly forgot that I saw the movie of this book. I remember every book that I found too difficult to finish.Five days a week, I wake up early on one island and get on a train that takes me to a different island. I sit at a desk and do menial tasks where the only rewards are slight variations of the same menial tasks. Ten or twelve hours later, I get on another train and go back the first island. All of this time is unproductive and wasted. What I'm saying is, we are all going to die. There are better ways to waste your time than reading this book.

  • Cameron
    2019-03-02 05:32

    This book was an odd experience for me. He's an excellent writer, and there were some great 80s details. But the book I was reading was not the book Kirn was writing. This became clear toward the end of the book, and led to a certain deflation of my enjoyment. After the first two chapters I saw a beautiful hand-made clock with perfectly interlocking gears and springs. But after Justin's heroic save of his father in the woods, the strange veering into Mormonism, it was like a cuckoo sprang out of the clock and disrupted the subtle elegance of it. Still, he's a great writer. And i don't think I've ever written out the word "cuckoo" before.

  • Thea Guanzon
    2019-03-18 08:12

    So, so good. Kirn's style is quick and witty, yet beautifully descriptive. I love Justin Cobb, his sarcasm, how he's a total mess. I could relate. Joel's speech at the end struck a chord within me: "He's used up a lot of excuses in his life and he doesn't have many left." This book perfectly captures the pathos of growing up in a small town. It's gritty and realistic, yet ends on a note of adventure, and hope. "The King Kong of oral obsessives," said Perry Lyman. "Hope, my boy. I live in hope. Like you do." The dialogue is subtly acerbic and a complete joy to read. Everyone's a little bit crazy. This book was given to me by a good friend from my own small town, right before I left for the big city. A friend who has also gone through his share of ups and downs but has finally managed to get it together and find his path in life. I hope to do the same. I live in hope, like we all do.

  • Brent Legault
    2019-03-14 04:16

    I normally detest clever teenagers, probably because I've never known one in real life (not even when I was a teenager - present company included), but I found Kirn's teenage "wisdom" to be palatable, especially since much of it was not wisdom at all but misguided confidence. There is plenty misguidedness in this novel, which is why it's so fun (I had to hold back a lot of public snickering). People who read novels for plots won't like this book. It's a bit fragmented; a bit like three novellas, loosely lining up. But the language is as crisp and sweet as an autumn apple (I promise, there are no such hokey lines in the book) and the teenage cleverness is counter-balanced with enough obliviousness to make it pleasant for picky pricks like me.

  • Sarah Fisher
    2019-03-16 08:34

    a refreshing coming of age story. takes many unexpected twists and turns which seem absurd and sincere all at the same time. the narrator must discover who he is when his habit of thumbsucking is broken through hypnosis when he is 13. without the safety of his thumb, he has a hard time dealing with the craziness that is his family. he tries drugs, gets diagnosed with ADHD, and tries converting to mormonism to fill the gap. sometimes, you just can't deny you are a bit weird and accepting that leaves this book with a satisfying and not cheesy feeling at the end.

  • Erica
    2019-02-27 10:16

    I read this book in two days. I really liked it, actually. The main character, Justin, is a little annoying at first, but as he approaches every new hobby he tries with vigor, I grew to love him. His father, Mike, also grew on me. At the beginning, he seemed to be an overbearing jock but by the end, I empathized with him.As the title implies, this story is about the life of a thumbsucker. A teenage thumbsucker.I can't wait to see the movie.Overall Grade: 4.75Note: This book was a book I received at my bookswapping party!

  • Susan
    2019-02-23 08:21

    It's more like 2 stars for me, but only because the more I read novels about pre-teen or teenage boys, the more I realize that is not the novel for me. However, I can't fault the novel for that, and this is a solid book. If you like Nick Hornsby, you'll like this book. It's funny in quite a few places, sweet in other places, and genuine. It definitely hits that 1980s sweet spot, there is that. Sure, I'm glad I picked it up at the used book store knowing nothing about it.

  • Sarah
    2019-03-04 08:14

    This is a book that's required for the Adolescent Lit class I'll be taking this semester. I decided to get a head start on the [lengthy] book list, and this one jumped out.Thumbsucker opens with a Sherwood Anderson quote from Winesburg Ohio and I found it fitting, especially for content: the novel reads like a series of related vignettes, and I was fondly reminded of both Winesburg and something more modern, like Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

  • Skeptigirl
    2019-03-10 12:16

    Mediocre movie but a great book. It is a story of a teenage boy who sucks him thumb but is made to stop and he stumbles through a series of self-destructive behaviours trying to compensate for it as other drama unfolds in his life and family. The movie did away with my favourite of his coping mechanisms, Mormonism. I thought it was compelling and entertaining but then again I like books written for teens that are not too vacuous.

  • CupcakeBlonde
    2019-02-20 08:35

    I read this for an online book club I recently joined. In the beginning I did not enjoy it. Everyone was too odd, too dysfunctional for me. But then I started to realize that the beauty of this book is that the main charcter, the narrator, is the most normal in the book and how he reacts to the craziness around him is mature and incredible. While not the greatest book I have ever read, it was not horrible and has sparked some interest and cool discussions in my book club.

  • Colette
    2019-03-18 12:15

    It has Mormons, so of course I loved it. Scattershot and brutally honest about Midwestern life. Fantastic, but not exactly a "fun" read

  • Matt Blair
    2019-03-04 12:25

    Well done. Reads more like a series of vignettes than a novel, but it's a clever collection full of rich characters.

  • Beth
    2019-03-21 11:31

    Things just seemed to happen without much reason.

  • Larry Buhl
    2019-03-18 11:15

    I saw the movie adaptation years ago - or rather I watched 30 minutes before pulling out the DVD in frustration at the self-conscious quirkiness of it and the black hole of acting that is Keanu Reeves - so imagine my surprise when that weird, plotless mess of a movie actually was adapted from a book. I had to read it, assuming the book was better. Well, it wasn't. Not plotwise anyway. It is not about a thumbsucking addiction. It is a series of events in the life of a teenager in a rather eccentric (effed up) family that eventually converts to Mormonism for some reason. The only part I remember clearly is the only non-comedic, non-ironic bit; where the boy and his father go hiking in Glacier National Park (I think it was Glacier) and get lost. Then, after that chapter, it's on to something else with no mention of what came before. It's almost like a collection of short stories, some of them satisfying, some not, but adding up to less than the sum of its parts.

  • Ashley
    2019-02-18 04:30

    I'm not sure where to start. I didn't love this book, but I didn't hate it either. Normally, I feel one way or the other; gushing about what I love and nitpicking about what annoyed me. Not this time or so it seems.This was my first time reading Kirn so I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a well-written, if seemly pointless, novel about nothing and everything. I was never bored or felt like I wouldn't finish the book but I didn't have a problem laying it aside at times either. It did feel a bit dated but not by much, guess that is what name-dropping does to a story.Truthfully, I'm not sure why the title of the book was "Thumbsucker" when "Fisher", " Fisherman" or "Mormon" would have worked just as well. Maybe because "Thumbsucker" is catchy and the opening act of the book? Who knows. Not a complete waste of my time but then again, what else am I to do in between chauffeuring my grandmother to and from appointments all day except read?

  • Mike Metiu
    2019-02-28 11:33

    This is a great book, if you are looking for a well written easy read. The story takes place in rural minnesota and revolves around a teenage boy and his family. The characters are well developed, believable and continue to evolve and grow throughout the novel. The father is a back to nature outdoorsman, and former collegiate athlete, who refers to his family as "you people". The main character is an intelligent ADD ridden kid who has problems sucking his thumb, until his dentist hypnotizes him into breaking the habit. The book follows him through high school, his escapdes on the debate team, drug use, sexual exploration, and the families initiation into the cult of Mormon (lots of fascinating insights into the Mormons.) While sometimes poignant, sad, and occasionally disturbing, it is overall a funny and light book. While its not a book I'd keep on my shelves, I do reccomend it... definitely worthy reading.

  • Cathleen Ash
    2019-02-22 05:07

    Justin’s been doing it for years, But its only lately that his dad made a campaign out of it.- to get him to stop. And really the only reason is because of the dental bills. It seems that the thumb sucking has pushed his teeth forward, and the dentist, a bit of a wacko, hypnotizes him to get him to stop. Justin has to admit its better than the awful tasting stuff his dad was putting on his thumb. The hypnosis works… Justin tries to find the comfort, the solace, he once found by sucking his thumb, but it’s elusive. His thumb no longer grants him that piece of mind. His obsession finds its way into all the other aspects of his life though and as he manages all the terrors and joys of growing up, it doesn’t fade, not when he talks a girl into taking off her shirt, not when he plans an evil revenge on the dentist who made him lose his happy place.

  • 3Kuhlman A
    2019-03-15 08:14

    This funny and sharp book really intrigued me. This is about a boy who has an obession with sucking his thumb and it was something that "(he) had always done. Even breathing did not go back to the womb." (1) His obsession with sucking his thumb caused him many problems. For example, he got prescribed drugs to stop this habit so "(he) lost desire for food, (his) appetite and it was as if (his) mouth was turning against (him)" (22) This lead him to believe "(he) wasn't in any shape that spring to try out for baseball" as his dad hoped he would. (64) Instead he decided to join a speech squad at school after the teacher "stopped in the parking lot and told (him) "he was a quite a communicator" in school." (65) Overall I would recommend this book because it is relatable to teenagers in the world today and how they survive in the world.

  • Mitchell
    2019-03-08 05:32

    An entertaining novel that doesn't quite consistently shine. Perhaps it's a matter of personal taste, but the picaresque characters here tend not to reach any moment of clarity or true conflict. Whatever events happen seem to happen without consequence, and characters by the end of the novel are just the same as they were from the beginning. Kirn has some interesting insights into the quirks of American suburbia--the strangely neurotic power-struggles over the mundane (high school debate teams, passive-aggressive board game sessions, Ritalin addictions)--but I never found the payoff to be satisfying. There is a kind of manic riffing, but never a full composition. For something richer, I would recommend Denis Johnson's "Jesus' Son."

  • Gloria
    2019-03-09 06:06

    I picked this book at random from the library. It was an interesting novel about one boy being pushed by his parents to over come an obsession with sucking his thumb which had persisted into his early teens. By being ripped from this comfort he went on a frazzled exploration of other obsessions: from drugs to religion. For me it was a sad story (not in very funny at all) that showcased a very sad reality. It was a hamlet like tragedy on small scale when his parents tried to break from him something so innate in his nature. This story was all about disconnecting from ourselves, our families, our great mother nature and the like and it had some excellent potential but I felt the ending was trite and let much to be desired.

  • Johnjbrantley
    2019-03-09 04:20

    I enjoyed reading this book. The author has a keen eye and talent for description. The book seemed to be well-structured.The book's weakness was in its characters. While they were all well-communicated and identifiable, I didn't really feel what was going on with them. Fun misadventures and all, but...It makes me wonder if creating neurotic characters is any way similar to creating complex and compelling characters. Here, the former seems to be a pretty good way to allow authors leeway in fabricating zany and interesting scenarios in the name of approaching deeper psychological conflicts and insecurities. There seems to be, nonetheless, only the rudiments of emotional development.

  • Meryl
    2019-02-28 10:06

    This book was nothing like the movie. Believe me, I just rewatched it.This is going to be quick, I don't care: I found the general story interesting and angsty-ish, not quite full-on angsty. I liked Justin a lot though, I felt as if he was one of my close friends. The element of a dysfunctional family was spot-on and the following through, kinda wraparound of the thumbsucking was well-developed. Towards the end, I forgot Justin even sucked his thumb in the first place, but I could see how chaotic everything got once I reached the last page. A nice read, simple to follow, and amusing in most parts.

  • Alex
    2019-02-23 09:20

    This was an easy read, largely, I think, because Kirn was judicious with his descriptions and dialogue. He didn't use more words than he needed, and that made all the words important. All the miniature stories (the book felt like a collection of stories woven into a narrative) were enjoyable and unique. The story was unpredictable but entirely believable.My only complaint is that we didn't delve more into Mike's story. I have a feeling he was trying to come out of the closet, but couldn't quite find the courage to do it. It would explain a lot of his behavior. Other than that, I really liked this book.

  • Audrey
    2019-02-19 07:20

    I picked up this book because I had started a different book by same author and left it at friend's house in another state. This book was available at library. I waffled between giving it 3 and 4 stars; while it was always easy to read, it sometimes came across as fragmented and the main character a bit detached. However, the more I got into it, the more I think the scatter and detachment are intentional writing styles to reflect and indirectly develop the main character. The unexpected last chunk of the novel involves a foray into Mormonism; I am highly intrigued and curious as to the accuracy of the religious profile described.All in all, I liked it.

  • Beatrice
    2019-03-04 09:25

    This book was totally not what I expected. I thought it would be the teenager's struggle with sucking his thumb, keeping it secret from his classmates and friends, something like that. The thumbsucking was really a minor part of the story. The family dynamics were the focus. And what a messed up family it is! The characters were very convincing, and sounded like people that I might know! They sounded like people that might be in my family. I couldn't put this book down. I definitely recommend it!

  • Seth
    2019-03-12 05:13

    I know that I found this to be a very fast and easy read. And I know that it struck me as a little disjointed.Otherwise, I am still assessing my reactions to the book and wavered between giving it two stars or four stars (ultimately, settling on the compromise of three stars). Without being able to pinpoint exactly why, I could not escape into the book -- that is, I was always very conscious that I was reading a novel -- and its artistry/craftsmanship (while still good) was not overwhelming enough to fully compensate.

  • Elaine
    2019-03-01 08:30

    I often buy books by their cover – they usually have weird and unique plot lines. This book, Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn, was one of those buys and it was a weird read. I honestly can’t decide if I liked or hated it. OK, I didn’t hate it but I guess I wished I had liked it better. It was an easy ready though and maybe I had a lukewarm response because of the character, not the story. An independent movie has been made based on the book and it is in my NetFlix queue. I will be curious to see how they interpreted the story on film.

  • Valerie
    2019-03-12 10:17

    This is the often cringe-worthy tale of a teen-aged boy who gives up thumbsucking, only to move on to other fixations... sex, drugs, and religion all play a part in his story.Told in a wry voice, the book explores his strange world and eccentric family. I found some chapters to be crossing the line between humor and (almost) horror... but I think that's part of the nature of this book - getting you to react by pushing you a bit too far, whether through humor or unease.Mostly funny, at times poignant. Worth a read.