Alternadad Hardcover – Jan 9 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
His novel Never Mind the Pollacks, a hilarious treat, used a fictional "Neal Pollack" to parody the excesses and idiocy of current pop culture. But his self-awareness becomes more self-indulgent (though still witty) in this straightforward memoir of life with his artist wife, the couple's decision a few years ago to have a baby and the attendant strains that his son, Elijah, wreaks on their hipster lifestyle. Pollack details the kind of problems that can be found in almost every memoir on child-rearing, from how to clean up baby poop to figuring out how best to be a "Dad" while being a friend. But he never really defines what it is that makes his parenting so alternative other than that he wants to be a parent and still get high and stay out late. Nevertheless, Pollack hasn't lost his flair for tongue-in-cheek commentary ("I'd begun exerting cultural control over my son; I was going to shape his mind until he was exactly like me"). (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Pop-culture writer Pollack has a reputation as a fun-loving, party-going hipster. For years he danced awkwardly from relationship to relationship, until he found the person he was looking for and settled down (sort of). Now we learn his deep, dark secret: he loves his little boy, loves him with a goofy, all-consuming love that makes him (and the reader) break out into smiles nearly constantly. This book, which recounts the author's transition from hipster guy to hipster dad, is both laugh-out-loud funny and cry-softly poignant. Written in Pollack's in-your-face, no-holds-barred style, it just may be the most offbeat book about parenting ever written, and fans of the author's previous, equally idiosyncratic books--including that pop-culture staple The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature (2000)--will be utterly enraptured. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The memoir covers Pollack's journey from privileged teen in the high upper middle class suburbs of Phoenix to mid-30s college graduate with wife and child. Along the way, he establishes that he and his wife pursue a nonconformist lifestyle, refusing to work for anyone but themselves. He is a freelance writer, and she is an artist. He also writes candidly about his relationship with pot. If this book had been published in the early 1990s, I'm sure Pollack and his wife would have been labeled Gen X slackers. (The vogue term, apparently, is hipsters.)
The choice of a nonconformist lifestyle has its costs, including downward mobility. Much of Alternadad describes the trials, tribulations, and tensions the Pollacks endure shortly before and after their son is born. It's clear that they want to be good parents to their son. However, lack of means forces them to confront hard realities. Healthcare isn't cheap. Daycare isn't cheap. An organic diet isn't cheap. Good housing isn't cheap. Pot isn't cheap. The privileged, secure life of the high upper middle class doesn't grow on trees.
At the same time, having a son also presents new non-monetary obligations and responsibilities that tax the do-what-you-want-when-you-want-to aspect of their lifestyle. Irrespective of dad's desire to cruise the bars or make the music scene, the kid needs care and demands attention. And then there are the behavioral issues in daycare . . . .
Alternadad also exposes the influence of media and information overload on young parents. Pollack's wife seems to jump on the Internet at every turn, looking for answers to everything from pressing health questions (e.g., what do you do when your toddler has spaghetti up his nose) to concerns about diet and schooling. Television--and especially children's television--also figures prominently in the Pollack household. Pollack offers some entertaining observations about the various characters that are all too familiar to parents of recent vintage.
I'm sure many will disagree with parenting decisions that the Pollacks made. And some of those decisions are cringeworthy. However, that's part of what learning to be parents is all about. If you can hold your judgment of those decisions in abeyance, Alternadad is an amusing book about a youngish couple's efforts to raise a kid in our media-saturated consumer society.
But I will confess that ALTERNADAD was a complete and happy surprise to me--hilarious, as all Neal's work is, but heartfelt and true. This book is fully deblustered of the old "Neal Pollack, Greatest Living Writer" persona of his seminal early work, replaced instead by an even older "Neal Pollack" going back to his days at the "Chicago Reader:" the just-plain-good-writer full of caustic wit and human sympathy.
This is a story that documents a new kind of hipster parental mood in some respects, but it is really a much simpler story about a man who loves his wife and son. Neal's ability to say just that puts paid to any rumor that he was ever merely a 90's era irony-drenched ha ha man, and makes ALTERNADAD the best third-book debut I've ever read.
That is all.
Yes, the book has been done before - as in Bill Cosby's Fatherhood and Paul Reiser's Babyhood. But Pollack offers his own alternate edge and provides what may ironically be the definition of mainstream fatherhood for our generation.
I truly appreciate how this book holds nothing back and allows to see Neal's family in its most unvarnished state. There are no (obvious) secrets and nothing is off-limits.
My only criticism of the book is that it seems to run out of steam about 3/4 of the way through the book. And because of the nature of the fact that Elijah and his parents are still growing and learning, there's no conclusion. Nonetheless, I was still left with a need for more closure as I turned the last page of the book. Perhaps that's why I still visit the blog every once in a while.
In "Alternadad" (290 pages), author Neil Pollack basically brings a memoir of his life so far, and the book can be divided in two parts, the early part, living in Chicago and eventually meeting his wife, and then the next part, involving moving to/living in Philadelphia and Austin and, of course, becoming a dad at age 33. I have to wonder what the book's title "Alternadad" is really all about. The author likes alternative music, but so what? Many people do too (reason I was tempted by the book's title in the first place). Yet, there is really nothing much "alternative" about how they are raising their son: the baby watches Sesame Street and eats cereal like millions of kids; the author frequents Target and other places that millions of Americans go to, and dotes on his young son, pretty much luke most parents actually. Or is it perhaps due to taking his young son to the Austin City Limits music festival? "I looked at the roster. Franz Ferdinand! the Killers! The Soundtrack of Our Lives! Modest Mouse! I imagined myself saying to my son, 'Elijah, we took you to see Moudest Mouse before you were even two'. Not Mickey Mouse, Modest Mouse! I was going to be the coolest dad ever!" Except that when the festival rolled around, he realizes that it's way too hot to enjoy it and abandons the idea after the first day. Or wondering what age it will be appropriate to watching his favorite movie, "Airplace", with his son. Etc.
In all, the book certainly couldn't live up to the intruiging title of the book. In fact, I'd venture to say that this is pretty much how millions and millions of moms and dads are raising their sons and daughters. If this is "alternative" in the author's view, I cannot even begin to wonder what "middle of the road" would be like.