If you’ve ever wondered how it might be possible to come from a privileged WASP background, have a Hollywood movie made about your life, and achieve reasonable success in show business, and STILL be reckoned (by yourself and others) a “loser”, then read Jeff Nichols’ Train Wreck: My Life as an Idoit [sic].
This picaresque memoir chronicles the funny and frequently cringe-inducing misadventures of a guy whose every lucky break is more than offset by a setback. Nichols was born into a family with old world aristocratic roots, born and raised on the Upper East Side and on Long Island, educated in private schools…but also afflicted with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, a speech impediment, and a mild case of Tourette’s Syndrome. These challenges are compounded after his teenage years by a substance abuse problem that flourishes into Belushi-esque proportions in his college years. Later, the author finds solace in AA but remains a schlemazel, burning down houses, losing countless jobs, and generally running afoul of the law and other authorities. Even Nichols’ big break — a 2008 film based on the very manuscript we are now reading (adapted when still unpublished) — is no salvation. Nichols alienates the star (Seann William Scott of American Pie and Dude, Where’s My Car?i) by falsely saying that the kid he wants an autographed photo for is dying of cancer. And Nichols’ frequent snipes about the film throughout the book can’t have endeared him to the producers or the writer/director. Nichols must be the only writer in history ever to complain that the film based on his book is too irritatingly DEEP. A jokewriter and a gadfly at heart, Nichols claims he’d have preferred a funnier, more superficial movie. (Apparently the film delves into the tragedy of his early struggles; I haven’t yet seen it).
There is a lesson somewhere in this story though. For all of his learning disabilities, Nichols is actually a very articulate, verbal, even witty guy. For someone like him to have been lumped into special education classes must have been alienating and demoralizing. Who wouldn’t become a burnout? Check out some of his stand-up work at Caroline’s. Apart from an oddly working class ethnic sounding manner of speaking (the only WASP I’ve ever met who sounds so much like a Jew or Italian at times is, uh, me) Nichols is the farthest thing from dumb. Clumsy, he may be. Apt to make bad decisions, no doubt. But only someone who was retarded would mistake him for retarded.
Nichols’s verbal facility aside, he still could have used a better editor on this book. Admittedly, it’s by definition a literary hodgepodge (part darkly humorous memoir a la Sedaris; part show biz memoir; part dirty joke book; part self-help book). And granted the author does have attention deficit disorder. But as presently organized the book is rather shapeless and repetitive. There’s much that could be cut; there are certain elements we could use a lot more of. Still, I wanna party with this guy — even if we do only get to drink coffee. For more info, go here: http://jeff-nichols.com