The highlight of this year’s Christmas season was wandering into a book store and buying a gift for myself: The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys by Chris Fuhrman.
Ideally, my Christmas Day should have been so much better. Ideally, this would be my girlfriend. If everything worked out exactly the way I wanted it to; I would pocket a six figure salary and have no real expenses in life. I can’t think of anything more boring than a perfect--ideal--world.
Reality is frank and cruelty is often the most brutally open form of honesty. It is the short, concise, and all together seemingly incomplete moments that stay with us the most: like Fuhrman’s novel or my Christmas Day.
I read a lot of 19th century Russian literature because I like it, not out of any pretentious feeling I get from saying the fact out loud: I honestly like it. I also like to “challenge” myself and step out side of my comfort zone and see what’s popular today and why. Fantasy is my standard “safe zone” although I am probably the genre’s harshest critic, in part because I like it and in part because it is the industry’s “Standard Bearer” at the moment--the leader in book sales. (And everybody loves to hate on the guy on top, right?)
The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys was as far from my comfort zone as I could get. This book was so foreign to me yet the setting was only 250 miles from where I live. I couldn’t identify with any of the characters or feel at home with any given situation yet everything was so believable that I felt like it could have been my life. Perhaps that secure feeling of comfort was what made certain events hard to swallow.
Its hard to be funny on paper: to write words that make people literally laugh out loud. Especially when making light of race relations, religion and spirituality, physical disabilities and the mind-blowing stupidity that we all have over come since adolescence. To write something so visceral and gritty--dare I say, “urban” for the time--with an overwhelming sense of humor that simultaneously makes fun of innocence and mocks cruelty is astonishing. To that end, The dangerous lives of Altar Boys may represent my new favorite genre of book, whatever genre that happens to be. I usually read a book and say, “it was good, I liked it.” Or, “well that sucked bobcat balls.” I don’t know if I liked this book or not.
Either way, I feel the writing was a success because it made me feel something. This book is short, assessable and a little bit more real than I was prepared for, kinda like that whole “art imitating life” nonsense.
I almost felt deprived by Furhman’s resolute sense of sordid, graphic, realness that carried the story beyond verisimilitude and across the threshold of, “every day life,” a realm I know all to well. Perhaps it was the faint touch of 19th century prose, the lightest taint of melodramatic bullshit that heightened my already hyper alert senses and made me susceptible to making a strong connection with the last ten pages.
I’m glad I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas and I’m equally glad Furhman denied me a “happily ever after” in his novel. If everything were ideal and just the way I wanted it to be, I doubt there would be many memorable moments in life, nor anything to make us appreciate all that hasn’t come to pass.