A genius baby is born to a Maine family with an alcoholic mother and a cocaine-addict older son, but the kicker is that the baby knows that a stray comet’s going to destroy the world in 2010. The novel goes in wildly varied directions from here using different narrators and styles, with no two sections alike and plenty of black humor. The second-person sections take some getting used to but add an otherworldly flair that becomes essential plot-wise, resulting in a thoughtful meditation on what it means to enjoy life and find meaning in the face of tragedy.
Carlin’s posthumous memoir (based on a decade of conversations with co-author Hendra) covers his New York childhood, his humdrum ‘60s comedy, his departure into gritty realism (“Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV”), his cocaine addiction, and finally his move toward satirizing politics and society. This was my first real foray into Carlin’s work, and it proved a solid start—many of his most famous pieces are transcribed with commentary, and his biting, thoughtful voice is always present. I was most drawn to his reflections about leaving the mainstream to find his real voice—undoubtedly the strongest section.
Fight Scenes is about growing up in the 1980s with your friend whose dad keeps naked pictures of women he’s slept with under his bed; it’s about dealing with bullies and looking at porn with girls you like and sitting in front of the 7-Eleven and smoking pot in the woods and fending off crazy racists at the local Popeye’s. Bottoms shows us these moments in a series of vignettes that all say more than they seem to at first glance, so that the book shows us both his ridiculous middle-school adventures and how fucked up life can be.
Where I Got It
A 2016 Christmas gift from the same friend who got me Rose of No Man’s Land, which is also pretty rad.
Like every Tom Robbins novel, this one starts out with a chaotic bang: a large-scrotumed talking tanuki parachutes into nineteenth century Japan to drink sake and sleep with girls; meanwhile a band of ex-GIs in southeast Asia panics when their drug-smuggling comrade gets caught in the act. Robbins takes a while to tie his scattered opening together, but when he does, the plot feels surprisingly coherent. We also go along with his writing because it’s devilishly funny and wittily intelligent as we fall into his bizarre world where we never quite know what’s coming, but feel okay with that.
Where I Got It
From a friend in spring 2015 who thought my writing reminded him of Tom Robbins’s. He gave me this one along with Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, which I read last year before I started this book blog.
Fourteen-year-old Trisha has a hypochondriac mother, a sister who wants to be on The Real World, and not much else. Her new job at a teenybopper mall store leads her to Rose, a rebel who smokes and otherwise does what she wants, and together they set out on a late-night adventure through the sprawl of northeastern Massachusetts. Tea’s writing hums with crazy energy, sharp observations, and madcap scenes that leave you racing. This is a book about when everything was exciting and meant something, a book for those of us who play by our own rules. Read it.
Where I Got It:
Christmas gift from a friend who was like, “I’ve got a book for you.”
Michelle Tea’s website
Bret Easton Ellis’s first novel feels like a 1980s version of The Sun Also Rises with heroin, male prostitution, and at least one snuff film, which was probably the same level of scandal as when Hemingway’s characters got drunk and had premarital sex in 1926. The whole novel evokes a quiet, disconcerting loathing for the fast-paced, aimless LA lifestyle of its post-high school characters, with subdued yet depressing descriptions of everything from desert scenery to shooting up heroin. It’s also a fast read that leaves you with a distinctly unsettled feeling, but in a good way.
Where I Got It
Ordered online in Summer 2015 after having this on my informal To-Read list since college.