Minsker (Barstool Prophets, 2011) delivers a novel about destructive teenagers in suburban Washington, D.C., in the 1980s.
The novel’s dyslexic narrator recounts his and his friends’ adventures as they seek the holy trinity of disaffected youth—drugs, sex and punk rock. The narrator and his pals, whom he calls “a dyslexic mafia,” fight, drink, have sex with girls and generally terrorize whomever they can—rumbling with skinheads, throwing firecrackers at little old ladies. His hippie-turned-yuppie parents, workaholic lawyers who’ve “sold out,” are kind but largely self-absorbed. The narrator, whether at special schools or at home, navigates his troubled relationships with girlfriends, has brushes with the law and partakes in drunken, drug-addled escapades with friends. Punk rock is a major thread of this homespun novel, which covers the narrator’s initial discovery of the music in a record store as well as his eventual disenchantment when he realizes that the punk scene seems to offer just another type of conformity. Throughout, the novel interjects punk lyrics that reinforce—intentionally or not—the scenes’ banality; as with most popular songs, the words become glaringly insipid on the printed page: “And would you feel right if I teach you tonight and put on the bite, all this and more little girl.” Minsker provides some deft description in this coming-of-age tale: For example, the narrator describes his father, dressed in an open bathrobe, as “moving quickly through the snow, like some kind of hairless ape” and his barely comprehensible friend, Ukala, as having gray skin “covered with festering pimples that oozed a yellow pus.” At another point, the narrator notes a kooky punk hairstyle and observes that “punks…at their core, were repressed hairdressers”; he also characterizes the juvenile correctional facility where so many of his friends wind up as “a place that didn’t correct, but perfected.” The story occasionally skates near lugubrious self-pity and nostalgia, but the author avoids wallowing in an age-old story of disillusioned teenagers coming to terms with the hypocrisies of the adult world, instead leavening it with a saving sense of humor.
Despite a few missteps, an enjoyable read: Salinger’s Holden Caulfield meets Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski.