The best thing that Neal Pollack's strained, overlong, obvious parenting memoir, "Alternadad," has going for it is its wry cover art: a punked out rubber ducky with beak-ring. The back of the book's dust jacket features an adorable powder blue stuffed rabbit with a close-pin through its floppy ear. That, too, is rather clever.
But that's where the bursts of inspiration stop. For the book itself is nothing more than a boring chronicle of the writer's attempts to transform his son in his own image: "I'd begun exerting cultural control over my son; I was going to shape his mind until he was exactly like me," Pollack writes.
That might not be healthy, exactly, but it is easy to identify with. I'm sure every parent has some urge to create their own Mini Me, a pint-sized version of their most dominant traits and interests. And surely there's humor to be mined from this situation. But it doesn't happen in "Alternadad," which simply isn't funny. It's just plain dull. Pollack incessantly reminds the reader that he is, at heart, a punk rocker, but this isn't the Black Flag or Buzzcocks of the child-rearing-ain't-easy book industry.
No, if anything, with its facile, self-serving pearls of wisdom, it is scarily reminiscent of a bad celebrity parenting text of the late-90s, say, something by Paul Reiser, or Tim Allen. The difference? Neal Pollack is cool. Right? I mean, the synopsis describes him as "a self-styled party guy." And he is the author, after all, of the well-titled "Never Mind the Pollacks" and "The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature."
Pollack, the synopsis contends, was known for his "outrageous literary antics," until the birth of his son, Elijah, forces some life changes for he and his wife, Regina. We follow the couple's courtship, and marriage, and surprise parenthood, before entering a series of "awwww" moments.
Ever the hipster, Pollack seeks to make Elijah a baby hipster, or at the very least, a hipster-in-training. Some airings of the Hives lead to the Ramones, and, oddly, Creeedence. "If I put on 'Never Mind the Bollocks -- Here's the Sex Pistols,' he could keep himself entertained by moshing for ten minutes or more.
Pollack reads "The Polar Express," "Look and Find Elmo," and the collected works of Richard Scarry. Pollack starts a band. Pollack watched "The Muppet Show" on DVD. Pollack writes. Pollack eats. Pollock sleeps. Pollack breathes. To paraphrase Jan Brady, "Alternadad" is 288 pages of Pollack, Pollack, Pollack, and that's at least 285 pages too many (I'll gladly give him three).
Perhaps there is a place for Pollack's musings: primetime television. Surely his sub-sitcom musings on child-rearing would fit perfectly on the boob tube, where, for every bold, truly groundbreaking comedy -- "The Office," "Arrested Development," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- there are bushels of bottom-of-the-barrel time-wasters.
But your old high school buddy's MySpace blog makes better reading.
Christopher Schobert is a Buffalo freelance reviewer.
By Neal Pollack
Pantheon, 304 pages, $23.95