Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: "Lucky Man" by Ben Tanzer

To the extent that Lucky Man is a first-person narrative about young men coming of age, you could say it's fratire. But this is damned serious stuff, making the book much more ambitious, I think, than some of the other puke-on-my-own-shoes books in that genre.

More ambitious still--there's not one narrator here but four, each taking turns commenting on experiences they share, in interleaved chapters. Sammy, Jake, Louie, and Gabe are confreres passing from high school to college while they get stoned in every way imaginable and have encounters and even a few relationships with women. Note that they're not so much chasing girls as hitting on them (and getting hit on) like bumper cars.

In fact, that's the dynamic of their lives--drifting, smashing, and moving on. The author may have ambition, but these guys rarely make a meal more complicated than a bowl of cereal. None of them finds much direction or purpose at all (one tries religion, briefly). Perhaps they would get motivated if they could only channel their anger, which mostly stems from life's random punishments. But they turn most of their angst in on themselves as they get wasted daily, punctuated by an occasional fistfight arising from little or no provocation.

First-person narration is a bold choice because the main character can't report on events that affect him but he can't see, or might not even hear about. This challenge is partially overcome in this book by Tanzer's telling the story from multiple points of view. Then, it's a challenge to give each of the voices a distinctive character. While these boys each has his quirks, their attitudes, outlooks, and prospects are much more alike than they are different. Maybe it's a generational thing--they've all given up, bowing to the great god of Pointlessness.

This is, as the reader will guess soon enough, a last-man-standing story. In the end, the question is, "What's it all mean?" Tanzer gives no clue, but I do give him a great deal of credit for at least raising the question.

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