A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade

A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade

by Kevin Brockmeier

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At age twelve, Kevin Brockmeier is ready to become a different person: not the boy he has always been—the one who cries too easily and laughs too easily, who lives in an otherland of sparkling daydreams and imaginary catastrophes—but someone else altogether.
Over the course of one school year—seventh grade—he sets out in

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At age twelve, Kevin Brockmeier is ready to become a different person: not the boy he has always been—the one who cries too easily and laughs too easily, who lives in an otherland of sparkling daydreams and imaginary catastrophes—but someone else altogether.
Over the course of one school year—seventh grade—he sets out in search of himself. Along the way, he happens into his first kiss at a church party, struggles to understand why his old friends tease him at the lunch table, becomes the talk of the entire school thanks to his Halloween costume, and booby-traps his lunch to deter a thief.
With the same deep feeling and oddly dreamlike precision that are the hallmarks of his fiction, the acclaimed novelist now explores the dream of his own past and recovers the person he used to be.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novelist Brockmeier (The Illumination) experiments with the memoir form as he guides readers through the 12th year of his life in this finely tuned portrait of a tween growing up in suburban Little Rock, Ark. in 1980s. Narrated in the third person, Brockmeier reflects on the sensitive kid he once was: "the kid who crie too easily" and was constantly concerned with social norms, Kevin cannot help but draw attention to himself. When Kevin is blindsided by former friends who become his teasing tormentors, he escapes into a science fiction-esque alternate universe. The confusion and anguish of the scenario is captured astutely by Brockmeier, who describes the school setting vividly with its "lockers crashing shut like cymbals," "Levis, Izods and bomber jackets," and "vending machines with their coils of chips and candy." This genre-spanning work is short on plot but bursting with eloquence, a striking slice of life aching with nostalgia. Agent: Jennifer Carlson, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
Filmstrip is a funny, poignant oddity. . . . There's something here for you as long as you remember being 12, having disloyal friends, and wondering when the opposite sex was going to discover how cool you were. . . . The prose is always a pleasure, and our little underdog hero is so likable that you're relieved just to be holding the book in your hands: It's proof that he turned out okay. A-”
Entertainment Weekly

“Brockmeier’s evocative, gracefully written memoir so beautifully captures a slice of our lives many may be tempted to write about, but few want to remember. . . . Brockmeier also does an excellent job anchoring his memoir in time without limiting its appeal only to those who came of age in that decade. In his fiction, Brockmeier has shown he’s a versatile prose stylist, and he makes the transition to memoir without sacrificing that quality. . . . Lovely.”

“Masterful. . . . This is painful stuff—and important and beautifully written stuff, in Brockmeier’s hands—worthy of your time and attention. It’s insightful, relayed at a propulsive clip, and captures the complicated inner life of a seventh grader with more unflinching precision than anything you’ll read on the subject. This book will help you.”
“A delicately rendered memoir that bathes the invariably painful past in a kind of gold-glowing tenderness. . . . There are plenty of memoirs that recount extraordinary circumstances and adventures, but I cannot think of one that so magically involves us in an exploration of the commonplace. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip is a look back—not in vengeance, anger or even gloating—but in wonder at the miraculous variety of experience, and the ways we come to be ourselves.”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“Beautifully written. . . . The books rings awfully true . . . Brockmeier’s potent, honest prose makes for a vivid, funny and achingly familiar read.”
Arkansas Times

"Funny, gripping, and heartbreaking." 
Rain Taxi Review of Books

“Every book by Kevin Brockmeier is unsettling, strange, and impossible to forget. . . . He challenges the way we see the world. His latest, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, catapults us all back to middle school with time-machine perfection. . . . Heartbreakingly honest.”
—Caroline Leavitt, bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You

“In three acclaimed novels and two story collections, Brockmeier earned his reputation as a literary virtuoso attuned to the illusory facets of everyday life. His rollicking first memoir, centered on his formative year in the seventh grade, affirms his talents and explores their foundations. . . . In a hilariously vivid, novelistic chronicle of the mid-1980s, Brockmeier nails the awkward triumphs and life-affirming disasters of teenagedom, revealing the creative significance of what might otherwise seem banal.”
—Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist

“A truly stunning hybrid—a memoir told with the imaginative vibrancy and the uncanny precision of the best fiction. This book will floor you, and flood you with a torrent of your own memories from the terrifying, electric threshold between childhood and adulthood. If you're new to his work, this is a phenomenal place to start.”
—Karen Russell, bestselling author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove
“Brockmeier is surely one of our great writers. Here seventh grade is rendered in such lovingly vivid detail—the year is so perfectly remembered—that you feel, after reading it, that the memory in fact belongs to you. I loved it.”
—Ethan Rutherford, author of The Peripatetic Coffin

Kirkus Reviews
A portrait of the author as a seventh-grader who's a little more sensitive but otherwise not much different than most. In his acknowledgements, novelist Brockmeier (The Illumination, 2011, etc.) categorizes this as an "odd little memoir-novel-thing," which serves as an apt description. It is a coming-of-puberty account of the seventh-grade school year, one that finds friends turning to bullying, acquaintances becoming friends and girls remaining unattainable. "Kevin is good with stories and always has been," he writes of the protagonist of this narrative, the only character who is fully developed; he's as self-conscious as most adolescents are during a stage of such tumultuous change. He has spent the summer with his father and returns to the home he shares with his mother and brother to find that everything has changed: music, slang, activities, allegiances. Of course, that will all change and change again, and those he considered his friends will ridicule him the most, finding "the softest tools they can use to hurt him," a milder form of what would now be recognized as bullying. "He has always been the kid who cries too easily and laughs too easily," writes Brockmeier, but "he is trying hard not to be him anymore, that kid." The pivotal chapter takes the nonfictional form of magical realism, anticipating Kevin's future, putting his (then) present crises in perspective and offering him a choice that could change the course of his existence. Otherwise, it's a book about coming to terms, accepting that "it's too late for you to become a different person. You'll never be tall, and you'll never be strong." But he will become a writer, which is what he was even back then. Often charming, occasionally moving, but mainly a book about not much that hasn't happened to pretty much everyone and which pretty much everyone has survived.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Following English, just as the bell is releasing everyone to third period, Miss Vincent gives him a greeting card with a drawing of a hippo standing on its hind legs. She hands it across his desk unassumingly, offhandedly, like homework, and no one pays much attention. Though the caption looks handwritten, it isn’t: “When everything really starts to get to you, DON’T DESPAIR! DON’T GIVE UP! Just do what I do,” and on the inside, “Eat.” There beneath the punch line is the blue ink of her cursive, full of circles, like the pattern at the corners of a fancy napkin: “Hope you are feeling better about things today. Things will get better, just be patient. Have a good day! Love— Ms. Vincent.”
The words make a kind of drumbeat in Kevin’s head.
Things, things. Better, better. Love.
Things, things. Better, better. Love.
For nearly an hour he listens to it, opening the card every so often to read the note again, and then geography has ended, and he is surveying the lunchroom. Where should he sit? The Thad table is an impossibility, and so are the girl tables. And the majority of the others are already taken by older students, eighth- and ninth-graders who have known each other for most of a lifetime.
Kevin shoulders up against one of the pillars. Too many people aren’t his friends. He feels as if the sheen of paint on the walls, the fluorescent lamp sputtering above the door, the shadows of the tree branches on the windows are all whispering a secret to him, one he could hear if the rest of the kids would just be quiet, something about time and school and where his life is taking him, but instead there is only the popcorn of everyone’s voices, bursting and bursting and bursting.
He decides to sit with Leigh Cushman and Mike Beaumont. He finds a barnacle of gum on the underside of the table and picks at it with his fingernails. Before long Saul Strong joins them with his sandwich bag and his Ruffles and “Hey there,” he greets them. “It’s the Tough Guys,” which is the name they have given their volleyball team in PE. They’ve even invented a chant:

We’re tough guys! We don’t take no crap
When we deliver our TOUGH RAP!

“How’s it going with y’all?”
How’s it going?” Leigh complains. “I’m totally gonna fail this Bible test, that’s how. Are you gonna fail it? ’Cause I am. All those begats and he-dieds and crap.”
“See, you just don’t remember memory verses. That’s your problem.”
“My point exactly! I only remember things I already know. That’s what they should have: knowing verses.”
“ ‘ ’Cause knowing is half the battle,’ ” Mike says.
“Meep meep,” Kevin adds.
Saul shakes his head. His feathered hair does a little landslide. “Man, that’s the Road Runner, not G.I. Joe.”
“No, no, there’s this episode where Shipwreck kicks a coyote into a canyon, and when it lands, he says meep meep. It’s a Road Runner joke, not a Road Runner mistake.”
“My whole life is a Road Runner joke,” Leigh says.
My whole life is a Road Runner mistake,” Kevin says.
He’s not sure what he means, or if he even means anything at all, but the tone of sad-sack defeat in his voice gets him a laugh.
The result is incontestable. That’s who he is: funny.
The rest of the day passes somehow, and then he is lying on his bedroom floor staring at the blades of the ceiling fan, edged with ruffs of gray dust, and there is only Friday to finish before Christmas break.
He spends most of the evening working on the lyrics of a Christmas song—“Deck the School,” he calls it—the kind of parody he has written by the dozens ever since he started buying Mads and Crackeds from the magazine rack at Kroger. The verses ascend through the school grades, each one landing squarely on a big-name student, a Beau Dawkins or a Bryan Plumlee, a Matthew Connerly or a Doug Odom. The next morning Kevin deposits the page anonymously on Mr. Garland’s desk and waits for him to read it. You never know with Mr. Garland. You just never do. He is half jester and half grouch. Telling a joke in his class is as likely to earn you a demerit as a laugh. But after the bell rings and the quiz begins, when he finally lays his fingers on the page, he chuckles silently with his mouth closed, exercising one side of his face as if he is working the sugar off a jawbreaker.
In chapel, sitting with the rest of the seventh-graders at the far end of the bleachers, Kevin watches him take the microphone and announce, “The kid who wrote this actually included all the fa-la-las, but I’m just going to give you the good stuff.” Mr. Garland delivers the lines like wisecracks, pausing to let the laughter burn down to ashes. The loudest reaction comes from the eighth-graders, for “When we get back, there’ll be no lickin’s / Assuming that there’s no Chris Pickens,” and then from the seniors, for “Can you hear the women screamin’? / There’s mistletoe and (gasp!) Scott Freeman.”
Afterward, in the thick of the applause, a voice shouts out, “Who wrote it?” and Mr. Garland tacks the paper to the stand with his finger. “Sorry, folks. ‘By anonymous.’ ”
Someone once told Kevin that if a hummingbird’s wings stop, its heart will explode.

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