His skates were too small. Or they didn't match. Or they were that ultimate humiliation for a boy trying to play hockey--girls' white figure skates. Add to young Bruce McCall's shabby equipment his pencil-thin wrists, weak ankles, and, as he puts it, "a fruit bat's metabolism with a tree sloth's reflexes," and you'll understand why he failed so dismally in the cold, rough world of neighborhood hockey in Toronto. Bruce's catastrophic career as a rink rat epitomizes the youth he recounts in this funny, moving, sometimes disturbing memoir. In fact, Thin Ice examines a boyhood so filled with failure and disappointment that the comedy and insight its author/survivor wrests from it--like his subsequent career as one of America's most admired humorists and illustrators--seem like miracles.
Bruce McCall's father, T.C., was an inaccessible tyrant. Bruce's mother, Peg, drank to blunt the effect of her husband's rages and to dodge the duties of taking care of six children. Still, Bruce did know some moments of pleasure as a child, especially in the small town of Simcoe, before T.C. moved his family to the dreary outskirts of Toronto: The Second World War offered its awesome matériel and its heroic men, milk bottles grew top hats of cream, and grapes hung free for the stealing in Mrs. Klein's backyard. But his parents' demons took their toll on Bruce, and the move to Toronto set the stage for academic and social disasters: He flunked out of high school and took dead-end graphic-design jobs, all the while envying the full-color culture and high-octane energy of Canada's muscular neighbor to the south.
That envy, combined with Bruce's passion for reading and drawing--one of thefew positive bequests from T.C. and Peg McCall--became his refuge and then his salvation. His precocious reverence for The New Yorker magazine led him to invent entire comic worlds of artistic and literary creation. Ultimately, he read, wrote, and drew himself out of pennilessness and despair. Bruce McCall may not have been destined to glide around Madison Square Garden holding the Stanley Cup aloft, but as Thin Ice demonstrates, perseverance and talent can turn crummy ice skates--and even dashed hopes--into dreams come true.