A Thinking Man’s Bully
Unstuck in Time, Unburdened by Convention, and Liberated from Fact
Adelberg taps a headline-grabbing, hot-button issue in his debut about a New Jersey man realizing the ramifications of his former violent behavior on friends and family… Readers will be enlightened by this capable, contemporary drama about the life of a repentant tyrant and his attempts to save his son. The author offers a fresh perspective on bullying by seamlessly intertwining the actions, the results, and the lasting consequences of brutality into a story brimming with personality and narrative brio.
A Thinking Man’s Bully
Matt Duffy is in crisis. His son, Jack, is a high school bully who attempts suicide after Matt snuffs out a fast-moving teen romance. Outwardly, Matt is fine, but inside he is filled with guilt and resentment. Matt reluctantly agrees to see a psychiatrist who pushes him to explore his fractious parenting and his own bullying past. The end result is a collection of Matt’s most outrageous, macabre, and indelible memories.
Within this debut novel, readers are sent back to high school to relive their insecurities, and recall the allure of the bad-ass and the mean-spirited laughter that comes too easily at the expense of others. Adelberg also hopscotches the last 30 years of pop culture with cutting wit. Ultimately we are witness to the profound struggle of an aging bully who is not quite lost, but far from redeemed: a man pitted against the growing realization that he has transferred his worst demons to his son.
“Adelberg’s punchy prose propels the work forward. Delving into a litany of teen tribulations—unrequited crushes, ugly fights, drug use—Adelberg pens realistic fiction that avoids cloying nostalgia.”
– Booklist (published by the American Library Association)
The material in A Thinking Man’s Bully is certainly heavy, but it’s leavened with deadpan humor and wry observations that make for a highly engaging, bittersweet read, not unlike paging through an old yearbook or a family photo album. Additionally, Adelberg’s straightforward prose works the minor miracle of balancing bluntness and nuance as he examines difficult and complex issues throughout the proceedings. All told, A Thinking Man’s Bully is a superb debut.
–Small Press Reviews
A perfectly painted mix of dark and light, amusement and pain, guilt, wisdom and innocence… The 190 pages of this book race past, each short story complete, each analysis intriguing and revealing, each twist in the plot perfectly timed. I couldn’t put it down and recommend it highly—a uniquely structured novel whose arrangement perfectly fits its tale.
Told in a combination of therapy sessions and memories-turned-short stories, A Thinking Man’s Bully is most powerful for its realism. The reader may find herself flipping back to the copyright page to confirm that, yes, this is a fiction, not a memoir… Adelberg’s true triumph lies in the reliability of his narrator. He recalls his childhood as a time of both the good and the bad, along with intentions that we can both applaud and condemn, all the while rooting for his success.
–The Broken Pencil
Michael Adelberg’s straight forward prose pulls no punches as it dredges up the painful memories of growing up, fitting in and doing the right thing… Through discussion, reflection and attrition, Mathew Duffy confronts years of guilt for the kid he was, takes responsibility for the kid he’s raising, and learns to appreciate that sometimes through tragedy, a stronger and better self can emerge. A Thinking Man’s Bully aims high and hits the mark.
In A Thinking Man’s Bully, Michael Adelberg never postures—his sentences punch with American talk! His touching and sympathetic telling of the life of Matthew Duffy is masked in toughness to match the animal bonding of boys and the bashing we give ourselves and others growing up. Adelberg knows we are always the children we were. The novel blooms with the maniac loves of the young and their bullshit, and the hard humor of boys becoming men. The book reads like a fistfight with the self, an owning up to. And ultimately, Adelberg succeeds, writing our stories as a way to the truth.
–Chris Green, author of Epiphany School and The Sky Over Walgreens
Michael Adelberg’s A Thinking Man’s Bully is a brilliant book, and a brutal, darkly funny read… After I finished the book, I re-read many passages again because they stunned me in their cruelty or in their beauty. A Thinking Man’s Bully sheds light on facets of human relationships that readers will recognize in their own lives, as a bully and as the bullied. As McDuff struggles to find the seed of the bully in him, redemption of a special sort grows with understanding. A Thinking Man’s Bully is fine work, timely and timeless.
–Sally D. Ketchum, journalist and author of Bread Garden
Matt Duffy is going to a shrink because his wife asked him to after the suicide attempt of their teenage son… What emerges is a culture of bullying, passed from generation to generation, that had a dark and long reaching effect on many lives, not just Matt’s. A fascinating character study told in a very unique way that I just can’t stop thinking about–there is profound depth in this seemingly simple book.
–Jackie Blem of The Tattered Cover, a nationally-recognized independent book store[A Thinking Man’s Bully is] an unvarnished look into the testosterone-addled world of male ritual and the inevitable sorrows that derive from inept communication and emotional immaturity. Honest, probing, literally brutal, Adelberg’s work is most rare because people who think like this, who become immersed in this kind of world, so rarely escape to write books.
– Joseph Mackin, author of Pretend All Your Life
Michael Adelberg’s A Thinking Man’s Bully is one of the best novels I have read in a long while. It is a coming-of-age story in the voice of Matt Duﬀy. Matt is confronting two horrors that have collided–the suicide of his friend 20-years earlier and his own ﬁfteen-year old son’s attempted suicide. This is not a tale of son’s attempted suicide. This is not a tale of woe but of Matt’s growth and understanding: Why he is who he is and why men are the way we are… I will be adding Adelberg to my list of favorite authors.
– David Rosman, columnist, Columbia Missourian and InkandVoice.com