A debut novel, based on true events, about parental abuse, homelessness, and fatherhood.
One of the unnamed narrator’s earliest memories is of his mother telling him, “You’ve ruined my life.” When he’s 4, she leaves his father for a cruel man who would go on to relentlessly beat, berate, and humiliate him for years. His mother’s indifferent to the abuse and ultimately abandons him, leaving him alone with Seth. He runs away from home and later winds up homeless while barely a teen. His days are somber but have occasional bright spots, such as his friendship with Charlie, a former prisoner of war during World War II who becomes the narrator’s mentor. But Seth’s screaming jeers perpetually run through the narrator’s head, often telling him that he’s worthless. He’s determined to prove his merit by finding paying work or sustaining a long-term relationship. The streets, however, are filled with obstacles, including ever-present gangs and readily available drugs. He has a relationship with a woman named Linda, and everything changes when his son is born. The signs of hope in this often depressing novel are fleeting. That said, the plainspoken prose never portrays graphic violence and typically censors profanity. The white narrator hears racial slurs from African-American and Latino teens, but the author interestingly doesn’t use these scenes to condemn racism, but rather to highlight the protagonist’s lack of a sense of identity. The narrator can be frustratingly subdued at times; for example, he says little about the death of a significant character, including how the person died. But he does leave readers with some indelible passages, such as “I don’t know why some people wind up with Seths and others have trouble believing Seths even exist” and “When I ate ‘shrooms, Seth disappeared—and so did I.”
A grim but emotionally raw portrayal of a harrowing existence.