Teenage nihilism and love torn angst is the subject of this smart, emotionally charged first novel from Blair Mastbaum. Set against the backdrop of Hawaii's Oaho and Kauai islands, Clay's Way tells the story of fifteen-year-old Sam, an earthy, volatile skater boy, and his obsession with Clay, an older pothead, surfer boy who has his own demons to contend with. Narrated in the first person with an all-most stream of consciousness style, Clay's Way takes the reader on Sam's journey of self-discovery as he battles for Clay's unrequited love.
Sam is an unusually aware teenager. He spurns his middle class, bourgeois parents, who are more concerned about picking their stock options than worrying about him. And while he yells profanity and rebels against at them, he secretly writes love torn haiku poetry and pines for the next time he sees Clay. Clay is the epitome of the local cool boy - he has the obligatory blonde girlfriend, the butch truck, the muscled body, the shark-toothed necklace, and the tattoos. The impressionable Sam is absolutely besotted with him. And Clay secretly likes Sam, but he's a cool boy, a "cool dude" who plays punk rock music from his truck stereo, and surreptitiously seduces and beguiles Sam whenever he has the chance.
Sam is driven to so many extremes over his crush. In one instance, he violently mutilates himself in Clay's truck, and in another instance, he surreptitiously creeps into Clay's home, hides in his bedroom, and spies on Clay and his girlfriend Tammy having intimate relations. The reader soon learns that Sam's life is full of sexual angst and confusion, "maybe I'm too young to be in this sort of position," and even though his weirdness and self-deprecation is shocking, one cannot help but like him.
The strength of Clay's Way is the way Mastbaum really gets to the heart of Sam's psyche, and as all the action is filtered through Sam's eyes, one gets a totally raw and discerning view of a teenager's conflicted world. Love for Sam is indirect motivation, uncontrollable lust, and he forgets to feel that love as just a simple emotion. Mastbaum is also incredibly clever at Sam's sensory descriptions of Clay - from his dirty tee shirts, to the smell of his car, and his skin; it's as though the author is describing a wild animal on heat. The story takes lots of twists and turns amidst the seedy paradise of the Honolulu suburbs and its alcohol and drug-fueled teenage parties.
Ultimately Clay's Way is a rather sad coming-of-age story, where Sam doesn't necessarily get want he wants out of life, and after the drinking, the drug taking, the violence, and the soul searching, he becomes a much more mature person. The final scene, full of spiritual meaning and beauty, is quite heart breaking as Sam looks up at the stars and declares a kind of goodbye to his youth. Mastbaum has written a wonderfully engaging novel, full of totally realistic characters, which are full of youthful dynamism, and conflicted with childish torment.