I have to admit that what drew me to this book was its title, which of course comes from the lyric of a certain little tune about the “runaway American dream” by Bruce Springsteen. This isn’t, however, about Springsteen, though he is mentioned in passing a few times. If you are already sensing my disapointment about that, you’d be dead on the money. But this book ended up winning me over in the end.
The author of Tramps Like Us is Kristen Buckley, a Jersey transplant who is also a screenwriter best known for “chick flicks” like How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days. The truth is, that on it’s surface Tramps Like Us could also easily be mistaken for sort of a chick’s book too. But what the hell. A chance to broaden my horizons I guess.
The book’s saving grace for me is the fact that Buckley writes in an engaging, and often very funny style. She also uses profanity quite freely (for a girl), so how can a guy like me resist? Something of an autobiography, Tramps Like Us details Buckley’s New Jersey upbringing from her childhood up through her early adolescence. It is a story that comes complete with all your usual Jersey characters such as Tony Soprano-like mobster types, big-haired mall rats, and of course that crazy family living down the street in the rundown house hidden behind the tree.
Early on in the story, Buckley learns how to cope with the “lifestyle change” that comes when your parents are divorced. Her father breaks the news by telling six-year-old Kristen that “he’s been wanting to do this for a while” and that “you’re old enough now that you don’t need a Dad anymore.”
With her Mom struggling to pay the bills, Kristen soon learns what it means to be a neighborhood pariah when the lawn goes unkept for so long that a neighbor finally leaves a “what’s up with the lawn?” note on their doorstep. Further on, life is compounded by a septic backup so bad that “Bruce Springsteen would write a song about it if he ever passed by on his way to the Stone Pony.” For young Kristen however, the last straw comes when her Mom is forced to trade the VW in for a “shit Gremlin.”
As much as a love letter to her beloved New Jersey as it is a childhood memoir, Tramps Like Us is laugh-out-loud, falling down funny in a number of spots. It is also a fast and easy read – definitely a page-turner.
Even the index pages are pretty darn entertaining. Here the author provides a short history of the “American Dream”, ending with Elvis dead on his toilet. Kristen also hilariously breaks down several of the more unique terms used in the book and gives them definitions. Her definition of “white trash” for example makes mention of such clever synonyms as “sand hiller” and “clay eater.” Her description of a “dirty sanchez” is also pretty priceless just for the fact that it proves even the fairer sex can apparently appreciate the value of a good dirty joke.
In the book’s introduction, there is also a funny story about how the forgettable Bruce Willis movie Color Of Night might have saved the USA from nuclear annihilation. (Willis is a fellow Jersey native.)
Tramps Like Us would be a keeper for its title alone, but Kristen Buckley actually lives up to it with a great read. Not bad for a chick book.