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A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell
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Jan 28, 2010

really liked it

Many coming-of-age memoirs depict a journey through hellish abuse. Sampsell’s verbal snapshots capture the more peripheral scene of a kid along for the ride, under the watchful eye of a distant, resentful father—“a humorless, God-fearing bore.” For many who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, the details of this American life will be familiar: the music, the sports teams, the Jaws-inspired aquaphobia, the release of the hostages from Iran, the mannerist rebellion of New Wave. Other aspects will resonate with males, from the naive cruelty of boys to elaborate strategies built around the acquisition and secretion of dirty magazines, to a candid account of obsession with girls and/or sex that recalls Jeffrey Brown’s tell-all graphic novels. McSweeney’s readers may recall some of these pieces reworked and fleshed out from an earlier chapbook, and while some newer passages (such as those about the abuse and institutionalization of Sampsell’s half-sister) feel arbitrarily chopped into vignettes, mostly the material perfectly fits the form, shards of memory fused into a compelling concretion of moments. A worthy addition to the work of such contemporary memoirists as Nick Flynn, Augusten Burroughs, Dave Eggers, and Stephen Elliott.
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