Mondays on the Margins: You comma Idiot by Doug Harris
From the publisher:
"Marginalized and alienated, perennial fuck-up Lee Goodstone is a resounding zero: a low-rent hash-dealer with delusions of inadequacy. He's content to while away the hours of his life drinking, smoking, hanging out, playing the occasional game of hockey, and generally ignoring the world outside his tiny neighbourhood. But Lee's near-idyllic existence is about to grind into second gear. His friend Henry has been accused of kidnapping and Lee's been cornered by the local media. Another friend has decided to shoehorn his way into Lee's drug business. And he's just made it with his best friend's girlfriend. Clearly, Lee needs a Plan B — not easy for a guy who long ago decided that the correct plan of action is to have no plan at all.
A hip, comedic novel, Doug Harris' YOU comma Idiot is a dark, demented, deeply delightful excursion into youthful alienation and ennui."
In the reviews on the first page, Zoe Whittall from The Globe & Mail says "If you were ever a teenaged badass in Montreal, you will know Lee Goodstone".
I was never a teenaged badass. My friend Julie had to take me to Montreal and hold my hand all day to help me over my fear of the city entire. If I had met Lee Goodstone and his crowd, I probably would have run away screaming.
Nevertheless, there are qualities in Lee Goodstone that I recognize, and moments he lives through that I can close my eyes and feel, viscerally, with a painful immediacy. I think it's a pretty good endorsement of Doug Harris, that he can make a nearly amoral twenty-something dope-dealer slacker sympathetic and relatable to a forty-ish, straightest straight girl bleeding-heart mother.
Lee Goodstone is a skinny, self-conscious, unlucky-in-love small-time dope dealer. His group of friends include: Henry, whose father worked in a jail and was killed in a riot when he was fourteen, and who is now "twenty-nine years old and sad and apologetic and lost and out of touch with even the simplest of tasks much of the time, another drug casualty left behind to live with his mother". He is also a suspect in the disappearance of a homeless girl; Johnny Karakis, who's handsome and cool and beloved by all and has a family of powerful, attractive parents and brothers; Stacy, whose two-year-old son Lee watches occasionally; and Honey, Johnny's girlfriend, after whom Lee has lusted for years.
As the book begins, Lee has just slept with Honey, his best friend's girlfriend, at her instigation. He tries to believe that he's cynical enough to do this without guilt, and that he's spent enough years being Johnny's sidekick that this is a kind of justice, but he can't really sell it to himself. Honey's motivations are also questionable, and this, along with the question of Henry's possible guilt and the group's ambivalence about it, are woven through the events of the book like crooked threads.
There are important questions about modern life here, from what the gaze of the media does to guilty and innocent parties alike, to how sincere and durable any friendship is under certain adverse circumstances, to whether people who are legitimately employed have it figured out any better than people who coast by on illegal activities - witness the married-with-children couple in the group, Aaron and Maureen, who work their asses off and are still always short of money. If Maureen comes off a little bitchy and hysterical about the whole Henry situation, who can blame her? Well, I did a little, but truthfully I probably wouldn't want a druggie possible-murderer in the house where my kids were sleeping either.
Lee's ease and enjoyment with Stacy's son Zachary, which name he hates so he calls him Ack! went a long way towards making him more sympathetic in my eyes. I didn't understand why he would selflessly volunteer to babysit someone else's kid, but this is made clear later on.
Lee's dealer, only identified as Your Dealer, kept recalling to my mind the phrase "great sage and eminent junkie" introduced by Stephen King in the Dark Tower series. He's a drug dealer who's always on a cleanse or diet regimen or fitness kick that will allow him to live forever, who also dispenses nuggets of wisdom and shares unpleasant personal hygiene facts at random. He also musters up a decently menacing demeanour when Henry's trouble with the police threatens to focus attention on him and his business.
Oh yes - Your Dealer - the book is written in the second person. At the beginning it's a bit jarring, but it normalizes quickly, and it's an interesting technique, helping the reader identify with Lee a little more.
All of these precipitating factors combine to make Lee's life, which was fairly uneventful if not really satisfying or fulfilling, a little less comfortable. Clearly, circumstances and alliances will shift throughout the course of the book, and a new reality will emerge. In the wrong hands, this could have been a charmless exercise, but Harris manages quite well. I wouldn't necessarily want to have these people over for dinner, but I did find myself caring what happened to them, and it was all rendered with enough humour and originality that it held my attention until the end.
-"You're the kind of guy who falls in love after one date. You're the kind of guy who rehearses a conversation fifty times in your head then blows it when it's for real. You're the kind of guy who washes your hair three times in a single day because you're meeting a chick at a restaurant that night. And then gets caught walking in the rain to get there. You're the kind of guy who's kind of stupid that way."
-"Every time you've ever seen Sharon she's been pissed off at something. She makes you think now of a very large, very angry duck."
-"And the thing is, people forget what happened to you in life. Eventually they just shrug at your hardships and dismiss your bad luck, they've had their own. People expect you to move on. They want you to put it behind you. People have their own problems, Henry. It doesn't matter what was unfair or what could've been, you're the only one counting those chits now. If you act stupidly long enough, people come to think of you as stupid. And if you behave weirdly for long enough, they think of you as weird."
-"A pair of short-haired freaks. Ecch. You feel yourself shudder. Guys like this always get to you. So utterly disconnected. So uncool. It makes you wonder sometimes, what might have been. There but for the grace of dope go you."
-"You're one of Johnny's friends, Lee. The one that always has hash for him. The skinny one. The one he looks so good standing beside."
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of the book by Goose Lane Editions for review purposes. Opinions are my own.