It's a strange read with an audacious collage method during which a pretty ordinary coming of age novel gets derailed every page or so by a hjolt of flash-fiction prose poem barrage of Bob Mould-Rimbaud-Wallace Stevens-Bob Dylan "Tarantula" poetry, so your Bud Lite is getting spiked with shots of absinthe. I liked it a lot and I'll bet, after the shock, you will too. It's not that you haven't read this tale a million times before. Two teens, Vim and Wheeler, play in a band called the Judy Lumpers and find their friendship tested when Vim falls for his best friend's girlfriend, the world-weary and mysterious Helene, whose Bible is Burroughs' novel NAKED LUNCH. The torment of loving a girl who "belongs to" another drives Vim deeper into an alcohol and drug fugue state which, in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1992, seems to be the status quo for all the newly graduated seniors, except perhaps for Vim's bete noire, the hyped up ballplayer whose future is so obviously bright that Vim can't stand to contemplate it, Derek Jeter.
Bryan Charles is wildly ambitious, but has he the mojo to pull off everything he's trying to accomplish? Different readers will have different answers. I liked his combination of John Hughes meets David Lynch. Reading it is like taking a wild, delightful and sometimes dusturbing trip through a teenage wasteland of narcissism and real vision, but at the same time I did feel that Charles is pandering to a certain fantasy element by having the mopey Vim so unexpectedly successful with women of every stripe, like a movie hero. One maybe. But multiple sex partners, not this guy. Maybe in Michigan however, so add a star if you're from the area.
The best of his writing is wonderfully over the top in a grand, old school vein of experimental, symbolist jazz riffing, like Hart Crane or Kerouac. "The gas station with one pump and no attendant and a self-service sign. The radio static. The wind. The sense of oneness and wonder and contentment. The way it never lasts. The way the future can't be lived, it only hovers before you, everywhere around you, like a note of music, a guitar chord struck." While on the one hand it seems absurd that a graduating high school senior would be waxing so wisely about what the future brings and what it doesn't, on the other hand Bryan Charles' prose is so beautifully wrought, so precise and heartfelt, it might bring tears to a stone. I'm eager to see what the future holds, maybe not for his characters, but for him as a stylist, as an American novelist of the first water.