Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn
A Novel

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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 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.

About Walter Kirn

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WALTER KIRN is a contributing editor to Time and GQ and a regular reviewer for the New York Times Book Review. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, GQ, Vogue, New York, and Esquire. He is the author of four previous works of fiction: My Hard Bargain: Stories, She Needed Me, Thumbsucker, and Up in the Air. He lives in Livingston, Montana.
Published October 31, 2012 by Anchor. 315 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Thumbsucker

Kirkus Reviews

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Kirn takes Justin through an episodic succession of generic rites of passage drugs, rebellion against authority, borderline-sexual initiation but the novel distances itself from the ever-increasing hundreds of Catcher in the Rye imitations through Kirns respect for the individual distinctions, as...

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The New York Times

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Justin, played by a slight, hollow-cheeked young actor named Lou Pucci, lives in a nondescript suburban house (in Beaverwood, Ore.), with his eccentric, wistful mother, Audrey (Tilda Swinton), his distant, disapproving dad, Jack (Vincent D'Onofrio), and a younger brother (Chase Offerle) who shows...

Sep 16 2005 | Read Full Review of Thumbsucker: A Novel

Publishers Weekly

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Dark and witty, novelist (She Needed Me) and book critic Kirn's narrative of demoralized 1980s suburbia chronicles the coming-of-age of Justin Cobb, a 14-year-old who develops a series of addictions after his dentist-cum-therapist breaks his thumb-sucking habit.

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Mike Cobb, Justin's dad who likes to be addressed as Mike, is over the thumbsucking so he sends Justin to see Peter Lyman, the ever changing dentist.

Aug 18 2011 | Read Full Review of Thumbsucker: A Novel

AV Club

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Born in a place where open communication has never been a high priority, his character spends the film learning to speak up, and Pucci plays him as someone slowly beginning to understand the world around him and to recognize the much larger world around that.

Sep 14 2005 | Read Full Review of Thumbsucker: A Novel

Entertainment Weekly

Originally posted Jan 20, 2006 Published in issue #860 Jan 27, 2006 Order article reprints

Jan 24 2006 | Read Full Review of Thumbsucker: A Novel

New York Magazine

It might have helped Justin if someone had suggested that, instead of Moby Dick, he devour a work by Herman Melville’s contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson—specifically, his essay “Self-Reliance.” But then, that’s what director Mills and author Kirn are getting at: There’s a thumbsucker born every m...

Sep 11 2005 | Read Full Review of Thumbsucker: A Novel

Slant Magazine

But because Kirn and Mills's characters are misguided, unhappy people entirely incapable of self-analysis, it takes a series of uncomfortably awkward encounters with sex (courtesy of Kelli Garner's cruel burnout) and success (thanks to Justin's debate team triumphs) before Justin and all the surr...

Aug 24 2005 | Read Full Review of Thumbsucker: A Novel


His parents are reluctant, but Justin grasps at any possibility for change.

Jan 28 2005 | Read Full Review of Thumbsucker: A Novel

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