Petty crime, reckless driving, and lots of hallucinogens are the essence of a young man’s life in this energetic but woozy memoir.
Brockhoff recounts his boyhood and youth in working-class Oakland, California, and Berkeley from the 1970s through the 1990s in a family shot through with dysfunction. Mentored by their older half brother, Squeaky, who graduated from juvie to armed robberies and serious prison time, Brockhoff and his younger brother, Joe, slid into turpitude while their overwhelmed mother, Rosemary, watched TV all day and their stepdad, Henry, tried to rein in the brood with plaintive injunctions to “treat people right.” The story is an escalating narrative of delinquency as the brothers vandalized schools and stores, boosted car stereos, burgled houses, strong-armed homeless men, and occasionally tortured an animal. (“There was something both disturbing and hilarious about watching a mouse try to walk when it’s burning up.”) Substance abuse escalates from booze to LSD—the author’s drug of choice—to a heavy crack habit. Much of the book is given over to portraying aimless joy rides through a Bay Area nightscape that’s vivid with paranoid hallucinations as the intoxicated boys dodged cops and hurtled toward crashes. Sick with self-loathing after years of this chaos, Brockhoff had a mountaintop epiphany. He committed to sobriety; relapsed with beer, weed, and psilocybin; and struggled to recommit to sobriety (not counting acid) and a stable relationship. It’s often hard to sympathize with the protagonists of Brockhoff’s picaresque: he and his brothers seem like punks, and when Rosemary tells them to “Get the hell out of this house!” readers may want to cheer. But Brockhoff makes his memoir engrossing with vigorous storytelling, punchy dialogue, and well-drawn characters, from colorful street people to the long-suffering Henry, a Bible-reading man with the household’s sole functioning moral compass. Drug scenes of poetic rapture (“Squeaky’s pupils pulsated like diamond-encrusted supernovae, getting ready to birth a brand new universe”) followed by cleareyed hangovers (“Mom was standing there in the kitchen drinking some Folgers, holding a cigarette like a peace sign, blowing the smoke out the corner of her lip towards the ceiling”) give resonance Brockhoff’s wildly veering experiences.
An absorbing recollection of excess and regret.