Thursday, November 27, 2014

Days of Throbbing Gristle by Kevin Cole

Title:  Days of Throbbing Gristle
Author:  Kevin Cole
Published:  May 1/14 by BabyBook
Length:  821pgs
Format:   ecopy
Genre:  YA literary fiction
Shelf:  review
Rating: ★★★★★

Back Cover Blurb:

Does Heaven know you're miserable now?

It's 1987: A low point in American culture. A time when grown men dressed like preppy jackasses and hair bands held court on MTV. And in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, it was even worse.

Into this void walks Samuel Henry Hay, a 17-year-old exchange student from Sheffield. A man with a plan. Sam's hopped the pond as a forthcoming high school senior hell-bent on seducing his host family, the Turners, into funding his studies at an American university and leave his dead-end Yorkshire life behind. And for an ambitious git like Sam, who idolizes Julius Caesar and has no scruples whatsoever about manipulating the upper middle class rubes who take him in, success seems certain. But as it turns out, the one thing Sam doesn't have figured out is himself.

If such sounds like the plot of an edgy but cute teen movie, it isn't. Days of Throbbing Gristle is dark, gritty and unpredictable. Sam's not your stereotypical hard case with soft underbelly either. He's a decidedly strange teen who's deeply delusional about his own badness. A young man desperately wanting to be hard, but discovering perhaps he doesn't have it in him after all.

This growth plays out as the story unfolds. Indeed, Sam's non-cynical self is wholly unapparent at first. When he steps off the plane from Heathrow to Houston, he may as well be a human-hating space alien come down from the moon. Sam's picked up by the Turners, whereupon he begins a point-by-point takedown of Texas and all that comes with it: the hairdos, accents, the tacky McMansions. You name it, Sam insults it. And what he has to say is as hilarious as it is scathing.

Indeed, nothing escapes Sam's critical eye, or strays from his dim view of the world, and you're well into the book before you realize that for all his talk of maintaining distance from the yokels and keeping his eyes on the prize ... Sam's actually doing a very, very bad job of doing either.

The problem is, Sam's absolutely drawn to the people he ridicules and professes to despise. Like a wannabe Nietzsche, he punches God in the face with one hand, and reaches out for comfort with the other. Except comfort for Sam comes in the form of the company of others. Not the adults in the story, soulless as their surroundings; rather, it's Sam's fellow teens he reaches out to. The kids, they still have something left in them, and in spite of himself, Sam falls in with everyone from rednecks and metalheads to closet homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses, and especially a group of suburban punk/new waver types completely clueless about damn near everything (but hilariously, and maybe even beautifully, so). All adolescents inhabiting DOTG are bubbling cauldrons of confusion, lust, and anger, and through Sam we get deep inside their heads.

Needless to say, the more Sam hangs with his new mates, the more his plans fall apart in a shamefully hilarious, train-wreck kind of way. There's a Goth rock poetry slam in an upper crust faux plantation home that'll make you fall out of your chair. There are Houston trips, strip club trips, acid trips, Galveston trips, trips to New Orleans, and beyond. And then comes a brutal night with a lunatic headbanger out to pay a call on his none-too-faithful girlfriend ... among other incidents.

For those who like to laugh in dark places, and literary fiction that's easy to read, DOTG is an epic exploration of the age between juvenile silliness and the phony adulthood of university. For some, it's the best time in their lives. For others, it's a miracle they make it to the other side.

My Review:

I absolutely loved the very personal feel to Cole’s writing. He paints a colourful backdrop to set the scene for this raw & real tale. A dark sense of comedy also runs throughout the tale. A sense of ‘the best laid plans of mice & men’ definitely comes to mind at more than one crossroads in the story. The uniqueness of this novel may start with the title but it doesn’t end there. Cole drew me in from the first sentence and kept me hooked throughout. He also kept me on my toes. Plot twists abound as he wields pen and ink to create a masterpiece that will most definitely stand the test of time.

I don’t even know where to start on the characters in this novel. Each was so unique and well developed. At the same time, they all melded together into the perfect cast for the story that Cole presents to us. The stark contrast between teens and adults brings the storyline into sharp focus throughout. It also heightens the emotional feel of the story.

This is a coming of age tale like no other. Although this is not a quick read, it is definitely one that is more than worth the time spent on it. I’ve earmarked it for a reread in the not so distant future.

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