- Craig Graziano
If memoirs are written to both connect with the reader and exorcise the writer's personal demons, then Moshe Kasher had one gigantic, stinky, firebreathing, sword-wielding demon.
His debut book's title says it all: Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16. Sure the Salinger-inspired pun is as obvious as a rhino stampede, but Moshe Kasher has had quite a colorful life. A life that I would not want to wish on my worst enemy.
Now a stand-up comic, Kasher was born to not one, but two, deaf parents. Mom and Dad separated within a year of his birth, and his mother took him and his older brother from Brooklyn to Oakland where a life of food stamps, less than stellar public schools, and years of therapy awaited them. This menagerie of elements was perfect for young Moshe (who at the time went by the less-Semitic name Mark) to rebel.
Within a couple years, Kasher is shoplifting liquor, vandalizing walls, ingesting whatever drugs he can get his hands on and generally causing a Tasmanian devil-like rate of wanton destruction. His mother can't hear him sneak out at night, and no one can keep him in school. Kasher's downward spiral is documented in several sections of the book titled "Fun," "Fun with Problems," and "Just Problems."
But, why should you care? What is there to add to the drug addiction memoir genre? James Frey's not-exactly-true book A Million Little Pieces elaborated quite thoroughly over the throbbing pains of addiction and rehabilitation. Who it hurts. Why it can't be stopped. Frey wrote the book on these concepts and received a one-two punch from Oprah. First she praised him for writing of his harrowing journey, then she shamed him for making some of that journey up.
Kasher's young age and sense of humor help differentiate his story from Frey's. What I found most fascinating were his experiences with his deaf parents. He writes about blasting his favorite, low-down, and dirtiest rap albums while his mother sat in the same room. "I can feel the bass," she says at one point. "I love it!"
In another section, our drug-addled anti-hero spends time in a rehab clinic that has family group therapy sessions. At one, his mother has an interpreter who struggles to keep up between Kasher's profanity-laden tirades and mom's signing.
"Why don't you hug some respect?" he'd ask.
"Have. Have some respect." I was simultaneously mocking him, correcting him, interpreting for my mother, and participating in the group dialogue all at once.
This might be my favorite scene in the entire book, and I'm sure Kasher has many more equally engaging moments in his life that deal with his powers of communication and smart aleckism.
Obviously Kasher makes it through okay, but he spends a lot of time making mistakes, cursing himself and others, getting high, and making more mistakes. If that's your favorite sort of read, jump on in!
I am greatly hoping Kasher has another book in him to discuss the nuances of living in the worlds of hearing and deafness, because I think that's where he could pen an even more fascinating story. That said, Kasher in the Rye is a good start.