4 out of 4 stars
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Official Review: The Great Pretender: Confessions of a Semi-Incorrigible Southern Catholic Boy by Robert R. Randall
It might be surprising to find out that some “other fiction” novels can tell us how children grow up. Studying child development and psychology can give you answers, but for some of us a coming-of-age novel is the best—and most entertaining--source of information. If written well, this kind of novel will introduce you to the main character’s family and friends, and reveal likes, dislikes, problems, and solutions.
Robert R. Randall’s The Great Pretender: Confessions of a Semi-Incorrigible Southern Catholic Boy is a well-written and very enjoyable novel. Johnny Malloy (friends call him JohnnyMalloy) tells his story in first-person, and both dialogue and narrative are used to let the reader know who Johnny is, what he does, and how he finds himself.
Johnny has many relatives, and as he grows up, he learns that some of them have issues that are problematic. His mother, Babs, is a religious Catholic who is convinced that nuns helped her recover from sad experiences in her own childhood. She had a difficult first marriage and divorced her husband, which resulted in her excommunication. As he grows older and learns more about his parents’ backgrounds, Johnny finds it confusing that his mother wants to raise him as a good Catholic in spite of the negative things that happened in her life. He also begins to realize that many relatives and friends, including his father and stepfather, have drinking issues. Teenage Johnny finds that alcohol is a great tool for relaxing and partying. He also begins to understand how alcohol causes severe problems. Of course that’s for other people, not for himself. Last but not least, Johnny learns some positive things, like what his talents are and how he can use them to his advantage.
Johnny shares his thoughts about Catholicism, and while I can understand that some readers might consider this to be negative, I felt that his experiences and concerns were much like those I’ve heard about from friends who were trying to decide about their religion. There are also several escapades about sexual encounters. Given the ages and situations, these are about how kids get interested and learn about sex, and not stories that are meant to be highly negative or disturbing. These may not be things that everyone would discuss with friends, but Randall uses humor and compassion well when writing about them.
I try to wait until I’ve finished reading a book to rate it, so I can consider all the positive and negative things about the story and how well it was written. While I was reading The Great Pretender, I broke my own rules and considered it to be 4 out of 4 stars from the beginning. So many things were done well, including characterization and narrative. Reality and humor can be a great combination, and it is in this book. Robert Randall was able to describe a lot about the 1940s and 1950s, and did it without using exceptionally long or detailed information that can be distracting. As a result, an older reader can be very comfortable and familiar with the background, a younger reader would find it enlightening, and both can enjoy the story.
The Great Pretender
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