Jim Levy’s father was a Freudian psychoanalyst in Beverly Hills, his mother an aspiring writer, and the struggle between them defined his sensuous and troubled path to manhood. Although he had a privileged childhood, he sought out “real life” in his teens by prowling the sleaziest parts of Los Angeles and hopping freight trains to San Francisco. Rowdy was both his dog and his preferred behavior.
Rowdy’s Boy is a memoir of the author’s first twenty years: childhood growing up in Bel Air, adolescence at an intensely academic boarding school, and young manhood at Pomona College and in Europe. Levy goes from being, in his own words, a big slow kid whose interest is in girls and sports to a sensitive, at times morbid poet in Italy and Spain. The transformation is subtly portrayed as he describes his physical and psychological development. The author is emotionally sided with his mother, but intellectually with his father. In a close examination of his father’s worldview as it is revealed in a monograph from World War II, he discovers a refutation in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.