Olsen dishes up lukewarm shock-and-awe stories in a memoir of self-discovery.
These loosely connected stories, told by a disillusioned software engineer whose outlook is informed by his outrageous past, begin with a resolution: Olsen is going to turn his life around. His career is stagnant; Anna, the object of his affection, consistently rebuffs his advances; and he’s choked by the fallout of numerous poor life choices. He chronicles an itinerant lifestyle, from San Diego to Milwaukee and back again, while digressing into sometimes lewd, sometimes unbelievable tales of youth steeped in enough liquor and hard drugs to give a contact-high. A grab bag of random episodes includes his being blackout drunk, a dysfunctional relationship with an unfaithful heroin addict, a fistfight with his mother’s abusive boyfriend and unfortunate liaisons with chat room strangers. Any of these could be jumping-off points for the changes Olsen claims to want to make, but instead of hinting at contemplativeness or regret, they come across mostly as boasts. At times, the details suffer from a lack of imagination; early on, a description of Anna reads, “Her long straight brown hair hanged around an adoring gorgeous smile; blissfully covering those blue piercing eyes of hers that could heat an entire ocean.” The parts that might be intriguing on their own—such as Olsen’s misadventures as a 21-year-old in Tijuana or a trip aboard the supposedly haunted Queen Mary—are offset by a passive voice (“An awkward laugh with a very short lifespan from him was then made”) and straining syntax. Though most stories are crass enough to be off-putting, there are moments of tenderness woven in. Olsen’s recollection of his grandfather’s death, and the impact it had on him, is refreshingly vulnerable, a welcome beacon of humanity by the late hour of its arrival.
A manifesto about the need to change, which may leave readers wishing it were as reflective as it is revealing.