Bobblehead Dad by Jim Higley is a nonlinear memoir told in the form of 25 lesson the author has learned during his life. In his forties, the author was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had to take stock of his life, the legacy he was given by his family, and the legacy he would leave to his children. He described himself as a bobblehead in the introduction, a plastic figure who always had a constant smile no matter what influences or stimuli were thrown at him and simply bobbled throughout his day, but that it was still a plastic smile and he wasn’t really living. Hence the title of the book.
The lessons are short and seem to be pretty much common sense, although the author acknowledges this near the end of the book. He explains that while most people know these lessons and they may seem easy, they also seem to be difficult to actually put into practice. It would have been better if the author had acknowledged this near the beginning of the book rather than at the end, because it leads to a bit of frustration and forehead slapping.
The author’s story is told in a nonlinear style. Each chapter/lesson is divided into two parts. The first is a personal memory, usually of growing up in a house where he was the youngest of five boys. At the age of fourteen, he lost his mother rather suddenly to brain cancer. Later, he lost his father, and then his brother, both to cancer. He shares personal memories of these particular parts of his life. The second part of each chapter involves how these parts influenced his feelings and reactions during the time he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the time leading up to his surgery, and his recovery. Each chapter concludes with the lesson that he took away these experiences.
There are some distinct problems with Bobblehead Dad, the first being the title. Higley describes what he means by being a bobblehead in the introduction. This is where the problem starts, however. Through the rest of the book, I just don’t get it. It didn’t make sense as to why or how being a bobblehead related to these lessons. It seems like he forgot what the original motif was shortly after starting it. So, why he chose the title and went to the trouble of describing what he meant in the introduction seemed confusing and ultimately disappointing, like getting literary blue balls.
I can tell what Higley is going for with his nonlinear storytelling in the memoir. It creates an interesting feel, and he’s clearly going for the effect of pulling different pieces of his life together like a jigsaw puzzle to use as teachable moments and ultimate lesson that he has at the end of the book. The only problem is that it…just…doesn’t…quite…work, at least not for this reviewer. Let me be clear that there’s a certain charm to the approach. There definitely is. At the same time, though, it can be frustrating or, at worst, confusing as the reader tries to piece together this life from different non-contiguous and nonlinear parts. It’s a style that I found interesting, but it also feels like it needed more time to cook.
Ultimately, Bobblehead Dad was not without it’s interesting moments or style, and I can’t fault Higley for trying something a little new and in a style that’s not seen often. It’s part memoir and part self-help book. At the same time, it’s not without some major problems and at times falls flat, and while the style of the book is interesting, it felt like the style was also experimental needed more time time and editing. My heart goes out to the author and his family for the struggles they’ve gone through in fighting his cancer and the losses they’ve suffered. But this book feels like it comes up short in telling of this struggle, which makes it difficult to fully recommend.
Bobblehead Dad earns 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Note: A free Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book was sent to this reviewer through a Goodreads First Read giveaway. This did not affect this review in any way.