Before I move on, I want to let you know that I have a giveway going on. You can get a copy of my novel In Loco Parentis (if you haven't already picked one up) today and over the Easter Weekend for free. It's at Amazon UK and US. I'd be much obliged if you'd take a punt. I'd be even more obliged if you passed the message on to your friends (or your enemies, come to think of it).
And now the star attraction. Ladies and gentlemen...
I don’t read many memoirs – Chaplin’s auto-biography is grand, Bukowski’s work mind-blowingly good (though blurring fact and fiction), and Tobias Wolff interesting enough. I think the reason I don’t read more of them is that they don’t really grab me, which makes them a struggle and a challenge that I’m not prepared to take on.
All The Wild Children (US) is totally different. It has a quality to it that made it compelling for me from start to finish.
In it, Josh Stallings tells his life story. It’s one hell of a story, I promise you that, with ups and downs and round-and-rounds that would have felled weaker individuals.
His adult working life has been spent in cutting rooms, slicing and piecing together trailers for films. He clearly did it very well and some of his achievements you’ll recognise when you read them. This is relevant to what he’s done in the book. Somehow, he’s been able to see his whole life and then write it so that it cuts back and forth between the moments from the past and the present in ways that complement each other very powerfully indeed. He has the ability to forge links between events so that the bigger perspective can be seen. I found the style breathtaking and he had me riding through the book with a full range of my emotions fully engaged and occasionally over-spilling. It's seamless.
I think that Josh is a natural born poet. I believe that any chunk of 200 words can be taken as a random sample and will give a line that will have the power to give you a physical reaction. I noted a few then decided I’d just rather go with the flow. Here are some of them in case you want a little taste:
‘Sometimes life is stranger than drugs.’
‘There will be Quaaludes with Ingrid...there will be amyl nitrate poppers in gay discos...there will be acid with Tomas...there will be mushrooms with my father...there will be an ocean of whiskey. And at the end of it all, none of it will be enough to stop the pain in my gut. None of it will quiet the fire in my head.’
‘In Golden Gate Park Janis Joplin is playing with Big Brother and the Holding Company.’
‘Here’s the trick to winning a war. You just need to be willing to suffer more casualties than the other guy.’
‘Booze flows through my youth like a river.’
‘Childhood prepared me to be very good at moving. It’s staying put that I have to learn to do.’
I put these in to give a flavour of the book, but they can’t do it justice on their own.
I saw myself in many of the stories (for me, it's my adult self, whereas Josh was only a kid). That helped make it interesting.
I saw things that to me conjure up what I might once have described as heaven – the Janis Joplin thing, the Hollywood scene, the crime, the clubs and strip bars, the sex, the commune and the high-school battle-grounds, the drugs and rock and roll, the violence and the excitement of it all. Life for Josh Stallings was never dull.
Why I would no longer think of such a life as heaven is the experience that has shown me that lows follow highs, that self-medication will eventually see you running on empty, that people need to be treated with respect rather than as accessories. Josh found the same, only he says it much better than I do. Read and learn. Read and learn.
What is particularly poignant is the loop Josh takes when recounting his life as a father in relation to his family history and his own life. It’s amazing to watch on.
Closest thing I can come to here is a book I read recently, The Outsiders. Something in the tone and the lifestyle of the boys growing up alone. There's something in the way simple language provokes a huge reaction and there's a tiny sharing of flavouts in parts of the voice maybe. Check it out and see if you can tell me what I mean by that – I’d be glad to hear from you.
I was sorry to come to the end of this one. I miss my friend already. My friend in this book who has taken me on a journey with him. His voice was always interesting and entertaining.
I’ve rarely felt so emotionally engaged with a collection of words. I did cry, and that really doesn’t happen often when I read books. I felt adrenaline pump, hid behind my imagination’s sofa, squinted, felt the pain and the joy and the bewilderment every step of the way.
The pace and style of this makes it gripping and compelling reading throughout.
Read this book if you need solace; if you love humanity; if you’re curious about the Sixties; if you want support; if you're broken and need help and inspiration; need to give up one of your crutches; or if you love fantastic stories.
I could go on and know I shouldn’t.
This read is brilliant.
Josh wonders what he was supposed to be in life. What he was aiming for. I can tell him now. In terms of his creative self, he lived a life like he’s had so far in order that he could write this amazing memoir.
Sometimes 5 stars just aren’t enough.