The wordy name for this book is I wish there was something that I could quit. What drew me to it (on the CD shop bookshelf) was the old drawing of a railroadman leaning out of a tower, pocket watch in hand, watching a set of 1950’s diesels blur past.
The 50’s are great fodder nowadays; full of irony.
So the story is about four young folks, Laura (a gloomy rock-throwing-at-military-trains nutcase), Aaron (the nutty-yet-earnest fellow living in his dead tour van in her driveway), Susan (the bartender seeking a strong man and…) Jemuel (her boyfriend, baby-weak yet organized to a fault). It’s the usual 20’s-something-lifestyle-noir deal, dead-end McJobs, no future, no strong relationships, no hope.
I’ll go with my personal take on this (since it’s a personal blog and I’m over 50) – hope and success is something you need to push for until you bleed. Happiness doesn’t just fall on you – you’ve got to go out and earn it. Sorry, kids.
So let’s look at that cover again. Railroads were organized in the 50s, run on timetables and synchronized clocks (standard time was displayed at all stations). And so this is actually two-sided irony – the first is the classic irony of the fifties and its tightly-wound company-man clockwatchers. But the ironical backlash of the cover is there – the people of the fifties know their place in the cosmos. The young people in this book lack any sort of structure or worth. They live trashy lives in trashy dumps, in a dispirited little town where the trains roll through night and day.
Okay, I’m done with the grumpy moralizer mode.
On the upside, the writing is pretty crisp and the author (Aaron Cometbus) makes a number of tight literisms. That’s where off-shelf writing such as this shines – it isn’t written for the masses, it’s written for a more vibrant (yet smaller) market. Unlike suburban pap, writing like this brings certain truths up, certain observations that are worth considering
On my first read, I was surprised to suddenly find myself, full stop, looking at the back cover. The story seemed to aimlessly just end in the middle of pointless dialog. But on second glance, I heard the echoes of what the author might have been saying, a faint whisper of hope in all this. Perhaps. Can’t tell you.
So I’ll say that it’s a strange book, a troubled book, and perhaps a second pass will help me to understand it better. Tight and strange and urban.