This eighties-centric, Ritalin-fueled, pitch-perfect comic novel 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.

The film, made in 2005, stars Vince Vaughn, Keanu Reeves and Tilda Swinton. Always funny, poignant, and 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.


Walter Kirn is the critically acclaimed author of the novels THE UNBINDING, SHE NEEDED ME, MISSION TO AMERICA, and UP IN THE AIR, which was made into a feature film starring George Clooney. He is a contributing editor to Time and GQ and a regular reviewer for the The New York Times Book Review. Portions of his previous novels have been excerpted in the New Yorker, GQ, and Esquire.