Tag Archives: Bill Bryson

On the shelf: ‘The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir’ by Bill Bryson

By Lisa Boss, Grand Rapids Public Library, Main


Not since Gahan Wilson’s masterful creation of, “The Kid”, who inhabited the comic strip Nuts, has the childhood of the ’50s been so horribly and hilariously portrayed. I laughed so hard, I was wiping tears away as I drove down the road listening to the author read his memoir with just the right pitch of nostalgia and incredulity over life in the 1950s.


If you were alive at any age back then, you’ve got to read this book. Not only for the unique history of an unusual age, but for your health! New studies have proven beyond a doubt that humor can be as good as medicine in some respects, thus putting the Thunderbolt Kid in the “extra strength” category.


Who was the Thunderbolt Kid you say? And were his powers used for good or ill?


He came out of the heartland: Des Moines, Iowa, conceived by a couple that he suspected were not his true parents for a time. He evolved at the “Kiddie Corral”,  (a haven piled high with the latest comics at the local grocery), where young Bill would be dropped off while his mom shopped. Nurtured at this comic book heaven, with its trove of amazing tales, one afternoon, while down in the basement, Bill discovered an old sweater with a Thunderbolt stitched across it, and the Thunderbolt Kid was born.


The heroes of the day were an eccentric bunch: “the Lone Ranger, who was already not the kind of fellow you would want to share a pup tent with, was made odder still by the fact that the part was played on television by two different actors… but the programs were rerun randomly on local TV, giving the impression that the Lone Ranger not only wore a tiny mask that fooled no one, but changed bodies from time to time.”


Bill’s super powers were not as awe-inspiring as most, but then, time and chance come to us in different ways. Just as other superheroes took a while to discover the scope and extent of their new powers, young Bryson finally uncovered the fact that his “Thundervision” was useful, but in modest ways: “…my superpowers were not actually about capturing bad people or doing good for the common man but primarily about using my X-ray vision to peer beneath the clothes of attractive women and to carbonize and eliminate people—teachers, babysitters, old ladies who wanted a kiss–who were an impediment to my happiness.”


There were many such impediments–but much exhilaration also.


It was an age of exotic inventions and everyday solutions: the cafeteria with atomic toilets, the totally cement nuclear bomb proof house, movie theaters with aw- inspiring Egyptian decor, rocket mail, toity jars, the zenith of the comic book, among others. A time when doctors lauded cigarettes for their “calming effects”, and a good squirt of DDT might be beneficial.


Who knew?  Anything seemed possible . . .


Bryson concludes, “What a wonderful world it was. We won’t see its like again…”