Bookshots: 'Whipping Boy' By Allen Kurzweil

Bookshots: 'Whipping Boy' By Allen Kurzweil

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Whipping Boy

Who Wrote It?

'Whipping Boy' far from a "woe is me while wiping away the tears with hundred dollar bills" kind of story. It is, instead, a vastly entertaining book of one man’s obsession and how childhood cruelty can both scar and drive us.

Novelist, educator, journalist, and inventor, Allen Kurzweil.

Plot in a Box:

Wealthy tow-head boy of privilege goes to exclusive Swiss boarding school because of his dead father’s obsession with Switzerland only to have the shit beaten out of him daily by a sadistic bully. Said boy then spends the next forty years obsessing on the bully.

Invent a new title for this book:

Finding Cesar

Read this if you liked:

Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson, Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

Meet the book's lead:

Allen Kurzweil, child of immense privilege who becomes a renowned public intellectual.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

I don’t know, as a kid Kurzweil would be portrayed by some adorable moppet. As an adult, Ewan McGregor.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

The book takes place all over the world, so yes to some, no to others.

What was your favorite sentence?

My mother warehoused me in Aiglon while she was test-driving her third husband.

The Verdict:

I’ll be the first to admit it, I have a built-in prejudice to the problems of the idle rich. I know, I know, they’re people just like the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us, the idle rich have the ability to buy themselves out of their problems.

This is also my beef with most of the creative memoirs that have flooded the literary landscape since the success of Augusten Burroughs Running with Scissors way back in 2002. Most of them have been written by formerly upper middle class suburban kids who happen to come from wacky, drug/alcohol/mentally unhealthy families with loads and loads of money that softens the blows of their parents wackiness. Yes, like most children of abnormal upbringings, they are scared and end up being just as weird and wacky as their parents, but with a self-conscious need to not reproduce the mental foibles of their elders.

And, of course, they somehow get book deals in recounting the “troubles” they suffered as children.

Unfortunately, I kind of approached Whipping Boy with the same attitude as I have with so many other "rich kids with problems" memoirs. In my reading of the early, slightly horrifying chapters of Whipping Boy, I kept thinking to myself: Man, why doesn’t this kid just call his globe-trotting mom and tell her to transfer him to another exclusive Swiss boarding school instead of taking so much shit from this asshole Cesar Augustus?

But the major difference between Whipping Boy and most "rich kids with problems" memoirs is that it’s actually an engaging and at times harrowing read that is as much top-tier investigative journalism as it is memoir. Kurzweil’s journey into finding out of what happened to his adolescent tormentor is both funny, heart-breaking, and populated with characters that seem like they popped out of pulp novels as opposed to being living, breathing human beings.

Yes, I did unfairly prejudge Whipping Boy, but I’ll flat out recant my judgment because it is far from a "woe is me while wiping away the tears with hundred dollar bills" kind of story. It is, instead, a vastly entertaining book of one man’s obsession and how childhood cruelty can both scar and drive us.

Image of Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully
Manufacturer: Harper
Part Number:
Keith Rawson

Review by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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Beverly Bambury's picture
Beverly Bambury January 20, 2015 - 9:03am

Fantastic review, Keith. Admitting the initial prejudice going in and how the book changed your perspective is a persuasive recommendation indeed. :) 

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck January 20, 2015 - 5:10pm

Reread the post, redacted my comment.