hairstyles of the damned, by Joe Meno (pub. 2004)
Akashic Books; Amazon; Goodreads; Wikipedia
Some months ago, this book showed up in the mail. I wondered where it had come from, why it had been sent to me. But then I thought, "Wait, did maybe a friend say like a few weeks ago that they were sending me this thing?" I couldn't remember if so... and, if so, who it was that might've said that. But whatever, I was in the middle of reading Asimov's Foundation series, so I didn't get around to reading this book, just yet. But eventually I finished that series, and started this. Took me a few weeks, I reckon. I don't read as much as I should.
Anyway, it was fairly decent. Published in 2004, it's set in 1990-91, in Chicago. It's about this guy named Brian Oswald. It seems to be told from his perspective at some point in the future, looking back, but that's not entirely clear. I mean, I could be wrong. It also seems to be told in the voice of a teenager, which is what he was at the time the story is set. I should also mention that the writing style seemed very beat, to me, like if William S. Burroughs or somebody was writing as a teenager in the early 90s. Whatever. It's divided into four parts:
The first, "american nightmare," starts in October 1990. Brian went to an all-boys Catholic school called Brother Rice. He was into metal, and his best friend was a girl named Gretchen, who was into punk. And he says he was falling in love with her, though he never admits this to her. She was into some asshole named Tony Degan. And she often kicked other girls asses. And I guess her mom had died awhile ago. There are a few other characters in the book who are sort of peripheral to the story, for the most part, like Gretchen's friend Kim, Gretchen's sister Jessica, some other guy named Bobby B., who was occasionally involved with Kim, and I guess he hung out with Tony and sometimes Brian. And later on Brian becomes friends with this kid named Rod, who was black, and didn't get along with the other black kids at school. Brian thought he was a nerd, but he liked him anyway. And Rod and his dad were into some cool music that Brian had never heard. And there was a guy named John McDunnah, who was kind of this dumb bully jock, or whatever. Anyway, there are a number of other characters, I don't suppose I have to list them all. I'm already boring myself, since I don't really know what to say about anyone. All I can really say about the story is throughout the first part, Brian wanted to ask Gretchen to the Homecoming dance, but he never did. Also he occasionally mentions the fact that his parents are on their way toward a divorce, probably.
Anyway, the first part took up nearly half of the book. Then the second part, "I was a teenage teen," starts in March 1991. Gretchen isn't really in this part of the book very much. Brian starts hanging out with a guy named Mike Madden, with whom he had been partnered to do a history project. They decided to do it on the Boston Strangler. Mike's parents got divorced, I guess, and his mom just kind of lost it, started acting more like a landlord than a mother to him. (It seems like there really aren't any characters with parents who are like a functioning couple, except Rod's; everyone's either divorced, nearly divorced, or widowed.) Anyway, Brian hung out in Mike's basement a lot, and they smoked dope, and Brian fell in love with this girl named Dorie, and Mike dated a girl named Erin. Brian and Dorie actually got together, and I guess he lost his virginity to her. Though he had, in the past, made out with a few girls, I guess. But eventually, she left Brian to get back together with her old boyfriend. Anyway, near the end of this part of the book, Brian rekindles his friendship with Gretchen, and he and Mike present their history project.
The third part, "the album that saved my life," starts in May 1991. Brian was starting to get more into punk. Also there's this recurring thing about the fact that the Seniors had decided to have separate proms. The black and white kids on the council couldn't agree on a theme song, and the black kids were outvoted, so they decided to have their own prom. But... well, Brian talks about how stupid this is, but it's not really that important for him personally, because he was a Junior. So for most of this section of the book, he's worried about who he might ask to the Junior prom, if anyone. Of course, he was in love with Gretchen again, but things got awkward between them, for reasons I won't get into. He also started hanging out with a guy named Nick, mostly breaking into cars in the mall parking lot. And eventually there's some big fight between people from Brother Rice and some other school, and Bobby B. seriously hurt some kid, and got expelled.
The fourth part, "halloween night," was of course set in October 1991, and only lasted a few pages. Brian went to a Halloween party. I should say, throughout the book, we get to see that Brian is pretty introspective. He thinks about lots of stuff, and he seems to have a number of epiphanies, he's rather philosophical and insightful, though that's somewhat masked by the language he uses, his way of speaking, which mostly sounds like some kind of stereotypical dumb teenage stoner or whatever, someone you really wouldn't think of as having much in the way of intelligent thoughts. The way he expresses himself to the reader... I dunno, it's all sort of vague and whatever. But he's definitely an intelligent guy, in his own way, and the final pages of the book kind of pulls together everything that's happened throughout the book, all the realizations he's had finally start coming together, you know? And in the end, it seems like there could be hope for him and Gretchen, but... the writer kind of leaves that unresolved, so we don't really know what's going to happen.
So, yeah, anyway. It's supposed to be this book about growing up, and how everyone's an outsider, or whatever. I dunno. I've always felt like an outsider, I think I was even more of an outsider than Brian Oswald, and to be sure, I wasn't much like him. I didn't drink or do drugs in high school. I didn't really hang out with friends, or date, or make out with anyone, let alone have sex. I never really did anything at all, and I was never part of any kind of clique or whatever. So in a lot of ways, I really can't identify with Brian or with any of the characters in this book. But in another way, I do identify with the basic theme, or whatever. The feeling of alienation and insecurity and uncertainty, and all that, I guess. Certainly I've always been introspective. I think way too much about everything, you know? Anyway, I really liked the style of writing, you really get a sense of character. It's definitely not like most books. And I dunno what else to say, but it was an interesting read, anyway.