Michael Adelberg has written an interesting fictional novel called “A Thinking Man’s Bully”. It is a book that looks at the life of a former Bully who now sees how, as a parent, he has passed on his bully ways to his son.
I talked to Michael via email and he included a Q&A about his book, which should be released today. You can get it or see more information about the book at Amazon by clicking here.
Q: What is A Thinking Man’s Bully?
Michael: A Thinking Man’s Bully is my debut novel. I grew up in central New Jersey in the 1970s and ‘80s and use this as the setting for the book—but the book is not autobiographical. The narrator and main character, Matt Duffy, is defined by two events: The suicide of his best friend from high school and, twenty years later, the attempted suicide of his teenage son. The near-death of his son forces Matt to re-examine the boy he was and the father he’s become. A Thinking Man’s Bully dissects the teen bully a generation later, as a parent. He knows his attitudes are considered inappropriate, but he’s not entirely sure why.
The book unfolds in a series of stories in which Matt discusses the most important people and events in his life—particularly his difficult teen years and key moments raising his son. Matt and his therapist, Lisa Moscovitz, they analyze each story and their sometimes friendly, often tense banter close each chapter. A reviewer has compared Matt and Lisa’s give-and-take to the scenes between Tony Soprano and Dr. Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos. The comparison may be helpful in understanding how the book unfolds.
Q: What made you write this book?
Michael: Several years ago, my older son was bullied by another boy. I confronted the bully’s father. The man said the right things, but also patted himself on the back for raising the toughest boy on the block. I was sickened by the realization that I might have behaved the same way if the situation were reversed. That week, I listened to a public radio program about bullying: None of the commentators discussed the most obvious cause of the problem—ignorant fathers (and sometimes mothers too) passing down bullying to the next generation. A Thinking Man’s Bully was born.
Near the completion of A Thinking Man’s Bully, my much-loved nephew, Eric—a young man whose slacker wit is all through this book—took his own life. That event made aspects of “the Bully” painful, and I seriously considered walking away from the project. But with the encouragement of my family (for which I am truly grateful), the book was re-tooled and finished. While I would do anything to reverse the loss, A Thinking Man’s Bully is a better book because it is informed by tragedy.
Q: What points are you trying to make about bullying?
Michael: When we see bullies depicted in movies and other stories, they are usually big, dumb, and superficial. They are props that a clever and sympathetic hero must outwit and eventually defeat—like those big boys in the Karate Kid movies or Nelson Muntz from The Simpson’s. I wanted to turn that around. My book looks at the world through the eyes of a bully, a bully dealing with the consequences of his actions a generation later, as the father of a bully, and a suicidal bully at that.
I want people to understand that bullies are rarely dumb. They’re smart, sensitive, troubled, and bored. They fall into bullying when their energies are not constructively channeled.Growing up, I observed bullies of different shapes and sizes, but the common ingredient was always too much unstructured time.
Q: Bullying is a hot topic in the news today. How did all of the coverage impact your book?
Michael: The media attention sharpened my focus. But much of the coverage is sensational and inaccurate when it suggests bullying is a new or growing problem. While cyber bullying, for example, might be new, bullying is timeless. Like many of our primal behaviors, bullying is in our DNA. Watch a National Geographic program about gorillas or wolves or lions and you’ll see a lot of bullying within the pack as the animals establish and maintain rank order.
Of course, humans try to be better than this. But bullying is part of us—like greed, lust, or any other vice. Zero-tolerance bullying rules in schools are helpful in suppressing bullying, but as long as we have troubled kids interacting with other children, bullying will occur. We can suppress the number of incidents, but we cannot remove it from our DNA.
Q: That’s a sad conclusion; is your book a downer?
Michael: I don’t think so. Matt is a sympathetic character and readers root for him. By the book’s end, Matt may not be redeemed, but at least we know he’s not a lost cause.
Also, A Thinking Man’s Bully is a comedy of sorts. Matt is a funny guy. His sharp sense of humor is all through the book as he wisecracks about the last thirty years of American popular culture. We laugh about O.J., Brittany Spears, Mike Dukakis, and Tina Fey’s imitation of Sarah Palin all over again. Fans of what I call the comedy-of-discomfort, the type of humor used in The Office or Borat, will find this a funny book. Since I wrote most of the book in the middle of the night, I needed to keep myself laughing.
Q: Besides writing through the night, is there anything else people should know about you?
Michael: I am a pretty typical suburban dad, married near twenty years and father of three boys. I’m treasurer for the local Cub Scouts and coach flag football in the northern Virginia suburb where I live. By day, I am a health policy wonk on Capitol Hill. After the kids go to
bed, I moonlight a little as an historian. My demographic research on the American Revolution has been published in national scholarly journals and won various awards and
honors. But I’ve loved writing A Thinking Man’s Bully and look forward to writing more fiction.
I tell people I write because TV bores me and I need something to keep me out of the bars at night. But, truth be told, it is a very fulfilling hobby and I am humbled that people like what I ‘m doing enough to support it.