The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as A White Anglo-Saxon Jew
by Sue William Silverman
Press: University of Nebraska Press
Date: March, 2014
Reviewed by: Kelly O’Toole
Sue William Silverman’s The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew is a collection of thematically linked essays, mini-memoirs that retell myriad events in Silverman’s life that reflect her struggles with identity, primarily with being a Jewish female in White Anglo-Saxon, Christian America.
She opens with a letter to the reader, describing herself as a gefilte fish, “Swimming Upstream with Nary a Fin. . .a Sorrowful, Utterly Lost and Sad Little Gefilte, far from her Glass Jar.” She appeals to the reader directly, pleading, “Turn these Pages. Understand.” What follows is Silverman’s journey to “Knowledge, Identity, Enlightenment,” the stories of swimming upstream in the sea of American culture, trying to reach herself and trying to reach home.
The title essay describes how a teenage Sue studied with a magnifying glass a Life magazine photo of Pat Boone, his wife and their four daughters riding a tandem bicycle. “I fantasized living inside this black-and-white print, unreachable,” she writes. “This immaculate universe was safe, far away from my father’s all-too-real hands, hands that hurt me at night.”
Silverman has written about her father’s hands hurting her at night in her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You. Now she confides how she found safety and refuge in Pat Boone’s WASP-y image, his “crisp, clean unchanging certainty.” By replacing her Jewish father in her mind with Pat Boone, she was saved.
Pat Boone isn’t her only refuge. In “The Wandering Jew,” Silverman describes her fascination with a local tramp while living on St. Thomas as a girl. She follows him to his shantytown, believing he is safe, while her father is not. When she watches Charlie Chaplin films in which his characters save young women, she wishes to be those women. She finds safety in objects: handkerchiefs, garnet rosary beads, marbles (“Concerning Cardboard Ghosts, Rosaries, and the Thingness of Things”)
The best memoirs map an author’s journey of self-discovery, making readers feel they are traveling alongside the author, exploring her psyche with her, witnessing her activities and emotions. By the end of the best memoirs, readers are transformed, having embarked on their own journeys to self-discovery. That is certainly true of The Pat Boone Fan Club. The more we learn about Silverman’s identity confusion, the more we question our own identities; the more we see her finding answers to those questions, the more we want to find answers to our own questions.
Many readers will relate to “The Endless Possibilities of Youth,” in which Silverman reflects on her feelings of alienation as a teenager. She fantasizes that if only she looked less Jewish, the boy she’s smitten with will reciprocate her feelings. And sadly, far too many people have felt betrayed by their very bodies and later, by the very physicians entrusted to treat their ailing bodies, as Silverman did when she felt abdominal pains that evolved into severe intestinal distress when treated with antibiotics (“See the Difference”).
The book’s cover image is a teal phonograph needle on a 45 RPM vinyl record. A fitting image, since The Pat Boone Fan Club reads very much like a great rock ‘n’ roll record. Our singer, Ms. Silverman, impresses with the range of her voice. Sometimes she writes in first person, sometimes second. She experiments with form, as with the mosaic of “Galveston Island Breakdown”, the screenplay of “I Was a Prisoner on the Satellite of Love” and the comic book-style narrative of “An Argument for the Existence of Free Will and/or Pat Boone’s Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Also like a great album, its various “tracks” connect thematically, but it never feels repetitious. Silverman varies the beat with metaphor, dark comedy, irony and other literary devices. Her choice of details brings her descriptions to life. And her poetic language gives her prose musicality.
The Pat Boone Fan Club is a rollicking road-trip of a book. It’s a trip worth taking, again and again.
Kelly O’Toole is a Community Columnist for the Grand Haven Tribune in Grand Haven, Michigan. She is working on a memoir.