In an offbeat memoir, Lisicky (Lawnboy, not reviewed) takes dense, obsessed bites from his past and deposits them at the feet of his readers for them to marvel over how he got from there to here.
While growing up in southern New Jersey during the 1960s, in a world of sprawling housing developments, Lisicky wants to be a great builder, like Bill Levitt: “I want those who drive through my communities to be socked in the head with the sheer beauty of all they see.” (Later, when he meets Levitt—or is this just a piece of creative nonfiction?—he says to the mogul, “You gave style to the masses,” and the builder responds: “The masses are asses.”) He’s aware of the stress under Levitt’s veneer, but Lisicky hopes to imbue his work with elegance and understated good taste. He: “All developers do is rip people off. I’m going to be a musician and a composer.” And he does, changing over from construction to liturgical composition, not that the housing developments haven’t left their mark. Through his teens and early 20s, he writes church music—his work is even published—and he discovers a gay sexuality. The sexuality survives, but not the future in music: it had felt right when the church was as much about hope as fear; but now, in its conservative Dark Ages, he asks how he could “ignore charges of colluding with the enemy” should he return to liturgical composition. There are riffs on neighbors, clothing, and college, each snapping the reader to attention after having been lost in one of Lisicky’s long, atmospheric tableaux of family—where the warmth of the reflections and steady pulse of humor suggest Lisicky wasn’t an unhappy boy, nor an unobservant one.
Lisicky built, and rebuilt and rebuilt, until it felt good to be in his skin. Famous Builder shows the same urge to grapple and illuminate.