This is a book about a troubled teenage boy with a broken, dysfunctional family.
So of course, from the beginning I was destined not to like it. I didn't hate it. I thought the writing was pretty good. But frankly, I have never understood teenage boys who get into trouble and don't care about anyone but themselves. I would have liked it if this book had helped me understand that sort of person, but it only made me more confused. Wolff tells us, "This is what I did, just because I felt like it," and I was constantly thinking, "But why? Why did you do it? And why does it matter? And why should I care what you did when you were a teenage boy?"
The way I felt about This Boy's Life reminded me of my experience with Catcher in the Rye. They're not really all that similar, but they're both about teenage boys who can't even begin to understand themselves or other people, so they act out in self-destructive ways. It seems that people who had similar experiences as teenagers are absolutely in love with Catcher in the Rye. "Oh, it's just so real," they'll say. Well, maybe. But I think really good stories are told in such a way that anyone, even those who haven't had the same experiences, can relate to them and understand them. Especially memoirs--a huge reason for the existence of memoir is that people who can't relate to the memoirist's experience can live in the author's story as they read.
I didn't have that experience as I read This Boy's Life, and for that reason the book felt distant to me. It was somewhat interesting, and it was readable, but I didn't particularly enjoy it.