I Was a Child: A Memoir by Bruce Eric Kaplan
(Blue Rider Press, 2015, 208 pages)
I recently listened to a conversation with Bruce Eric Kaplan on a comedy podcast. I really enjoyed his dry sense of humor and his thoughtful, deliberate reflections on his childhood, parenting, and art. Kaplan is a TV writer who has worked on a diverse set of shows, including Seinfeld, Six Feet Under, and the current HBO series Girls. More relevant to the memoir he has written, however, are his cartoons, which are frequently featured in The New Yorker.
Kaplan’s memoir consists of brief stories and memories from his childhood. He begins this way: “I was a child, but I wasn’t very good at it. I’m not sure why. I think a lot of us are born waiting to be adults. I know I was. I just sat there, waiting. This is that story.”
The story he goes on to tell through words and drawings depicts the eccentricities of his parents, the dynamics of his neighborhood, and above all, the TV shows and movies that he loved as a kid. Memories, such as seeing his dad’s comb-over flap in the wind, fighting with his brothers for the good living room chair, and daily TV schedules are delivered with very little embellishment. They are recounted starkly, simply offering a reminder of how strange the world can seem to a child.
Kaplan’s book really captures something humorous about the limited perspective of childhood. As he told stories about his parents, I found myself constantly thinking about how odd my own behavior must look to my kids. Kaplan’s sparse drawings are hilarious, and they perfectly compliment his unadorned prose. I’m definitely planning to check out some of his collections of cartoons.