Not the Wonder Years
The last thing you’d expect a memoir about drug addiction to be is hilarious but comedian Moshe Kasher’s chronicle of his struggles with drugs, alcohol, culture clashes and low self-esteem is often very funny when it isn’t breaking your heart. Unlike James Frey’s A Thousand Little Pieces, which has scenes that are way over the top even for fiction, there’s no sense in this book that Kasher is exaggerating for effect. If anything, we suspect he’s holding back.
Born Mark Kasher (he refers to Mark as his “slave name”) the younger (hearing) son of two deaf parents, Moshe was in therapy almost before he was toilet-trained. Bounced between a bitter, matriarchal household in Oakland (his mother was a third-generation divorcee whose own mother had nothing good to say about men) and his father’s strict Orthodox community in Brooklyn where he and his older brother David were mocked for not knowing the “rules,” Moshe ended up one of “those kids.”
Hanging out with a gang of teenage losers, he masterminded a money-making drug-selling ring despite being so marginalized at school that he’d been shunted over to the special ed track. (Yes, he rode the “short bus” to school.)
He turned to drugs at 12 and they helped, but after awhile, Moshe wanted more.
Kasher in the Rye is a coming-of-age story that will give hope to every kid who ever felt hopeless. In and out of rehab and mental hospitals and schools both public and private, coming close to falling through the cracks altogether, Moshe’s message is, in the end, “It gets better.”
Moshe is cheerfully un-PC in his accounts of his parents dealing with their deafness—his father was sure he could “pass” for hearing. His stories of being pounded by the black kids in his Oakland middle school reflect a social reality that’s often ignored. His encounters with the extremely Old World Sea Gate community his father entered after divorcing Moshe’s mother demonstrate just how much of an outside the author was—no matter where he was.
In between the laughs is a lot of pain, though, and there are moments that will make you gasp, like the glimpse we get of the infected burn that resulted from Moshe’s initiation into the pathetic gang of kids who are the only people offering him acknowledgment. He’s not glamorizing drug taking, but he makes it understandable.
The story feels a little rushed after Moshe’s decision to finally get his life together (at age 16), and we wish he’d added another 100 pages or so.
Moshe’s comedy routines are readily available on YouTube, and after reading this book, you may want to check them out, to see what he has done with his second chance at life.