Friday, January 2, 2009

Last Exit to Normal -- Michael Harmon

Three years ago, Ben Campbell's dad announced that he was gay and the family imploded. Ben's mother walked out and Ben was left with a father who, in Ben's eyes, selfishly destroyed the family. For two years, Ben did everything he could to drive his father crazy: he smoked pot, dropped acid, got drunk, got arrested, skipped school, smoked more pot... and was always truthful and open about his activities.

One year ago, Ben cleaned himself up. For almost an entire year, he didn't get in trouble at home or school, stopped smoking pot and was, as he said, "somewhat civil". Everything was going pretty okay. Until, that is, the incident that resulted in his father and his father's husband packing themselves, Ben, and all of their belongings into the family minivan and moving the three of them from Spokane to The Middle of Nowhere, Montana (population 400), to live with Ben's dad's husband's mother.

That's right. I said Montana.

The real stand-out in The Last Exit to Nowhere is Ben's voice. He is angry, sarcastic, argumentative, extremely bright, curious, honest, rash, stubborn, romantic, depressed, heroic, funny and honorable -- sometimes all within the space of two pages. Although a couple of the plotlines felt a bit overly dramatic/TV-movie-ish to me*, the heart of the book -- Ben's relationship with his father and his own coming-of-age -- felt nuanced and emotionally real. His relationships with the other characters, the aforementioned TV-movie plotlines aside, rang true as well, as did the interactions between the secondary characters. It's a quick, easy read, but unlike a lot of quick, easy reads, Michael Harmon didn't forgo depth for readability. There's a lot to think about here.

Highly recommended to fans of Chris Crutcher.

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Cross-posted at Bookshelves of Doom.

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*And contrary to what one of the characters says, I don't think Dwight Yoakam has ever covered Pink Cadillac, though he does cover Dave Alvin's Long White Cadillac**. If I'm wrong, let me know -- I'd love to add to my collection.

**Dwight is wearing what might be the world's tightest pants in that video. Scary.


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2 comments:

A Paperback Writer said...

A gay family in Montana? Wow. That should be a good stereotype-buster.
This sounds good. I'll have to get a copy.
Thanks for posting.

Readingjunky said...

I loved this one and it's popular with my students - both guys and gals.