Dogged by life
The stories take place in donut shops, nightclubs, shabby rooms. Everybody is dogged by something, or somebody, and yet, somehow, they are no sadder than any of us.
Dogged by life
Short stories of lost souls struggling for a shred of dignity
Book Review of Dead Boys by Richard Lange
By Dell Franklin
Having never reviewed a book, but being an avid reader, I can pretty much tell what is bullshit and what is not. Reviews I read in major publications are usually of celebrity memoirs, political biography, self-help-faux-spiritual gobbledygook, retired White House tell-alls, or novels by those who publish one formula potboiler after another. From time to time an important critic joyfully praises the true artistes, though to me there are very few nuggets to be discovered amid the onslaught of unreadable garbage.
I want to be inspired. I want to be moved emotionally and challenged mentally. I want the truth. I want a distinctive new voice, a unique per-spective, an original style, I want something that sizzles, so that I slam the book down and exclaim: “Damn, this is it, this is the real thing, this is what I try to hunt down in book stores!”
And so I found it in “Dead Boy,” a book of 12 short stories by a graduate of nearby Morro Bay High school, Richard Lange. A writer who has toiled for the little publications read only by college students and creative writing professors and few others, and who finally landed a book deal with Little, Brown and Company.
There is, to Lange’s stories, a Steinbeckian devotion to ordinary every day people caught up in the substratum toil, but in a different time and besieged by different problems. Raymond Carver, the American Chekhov, did this, and it is he to whom Lange is compared, though he works in a different playground of the disenfranchised and self-estranged, the drug- and alcohol-riven, those rejected in romance, marriage, workplace, career, until everything has gone sour, or is going sour, and the remnants of these desolate and broken plights cry out and struggle for reclamation.
A meth head, caught up in the humdrum of helping a friend move a whacked-out speed freak named Deedee to a new apartment, stands atop the apartment building where tweakers are drinking and turning the event into a sordid, perverted costume party, and looks out at L.A.
“The sky out this way is a map of hell—blood and fire and gristly bruised clouds. I stare at it until I think I have it memorized, then lower my eyes to an open window in the next building, through which I can see a fat man lying on his couch, watching television. There is an empty birdcage in the apartment, a treadmill. He scratches his belly and coughs. These lives, these lives.”
Throughout the above story (“Blind-Made Products”), he broods over a beautiful blind girl he loved but failed and is consumed by guilt and possibly self-loathing as he goes on a meth tear of monumental pro-portions, but from which he knows he will recover, and try again.
All the stories are situated in Southern California, and mostly in L.A. and Hollywood. The stench of atmosphere rivals that wrought by Raymond Chandler’s detective novels. One can feel the tension, the oppression of Santa Ana winds, smog, traffic, cloying anomaly and insanity closing in on all sides, squeezing the characters, who are, in most cases, outcasts, rejects, lost souls, ostracized from family, floating around out there. They are trying to forget, and can’t stop forgetting. A bank robber. Security guard in a mini mart. Salesman with a wife who travels and is cheating on him and who worries about a fellow worker committing suicide. A single mother who falls for a guy who delivers her fake ashes in a fake vase of her estranged father, a Vietnam vet who was a recovering alcoholic. (The real vase and ashes are stolen out of the trunk of his car while he sleeps off a drunk).
The stories take place in donut shops, nightclubs, shabby rooms. Everybody is dogged by something, or somebody, and yet, somehow, they are no sadder than any of us, really. They are people we see every day, but refuse to acknowledge, like the homeless, because it is too painful, and perhaps they will remind us of ourselves.
At the start of “Loss Prevention” there is this: “Every junkie I’ve ever known has had a thing for Neil Young. Be he a punk, a metal head, or just your garden variety handlebar-mustachioed dirtbag, if he hauls around a monkey, he’s going to have DECADE in his collection, and he’s bound to ruin more than a few parties by insisting that you play at least some of it, no matter that the prettiest girl in the room is begging for something she can dance to. Even if he gets off dope he sticks with Neil, because by then Neil’s become the soundtrack to his outlaw past. Let him hear “Old Man” or “Sugar Mountain,” years after the fact, and everything in him will hum like a just-struck tuning fork as mind and body and blood harmonize in mutual longing for a time when desire was an easy itch to scratch.”
Writing like this is in all these involving stories that cannot possibly be the work of only the imagination, but of living on the streets, and Lange has captured it to the last detail, making us care about people most of us would declare as undeserving.
My final word, as publisher of the Rogue Voice, is that if you like us, and like rogues, you will love “Dead Boys.” A perfect holiday gift for the reading rogue. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.