Having reviewed more than a few novels for Razorcake by now, I feel like I’ve gotten fairly good at spotting a self-published or POD (print on demand) book when I see one. And from its heavy use of Courier font on the covers, and the near total lack of information anywhere other than an excerpt pasted on the back, this one reeked of a self-published endeavor. Not that that’s bad at all—I’m not sure why I have higher expectations for self-published books than I do zines, but it’s there regardless. I guess it’s because you can forgive a writer certain transgressions when they’re just putting out something that’s twenty or thirty pages; when you get into the 200-300 page range, the decisions a writer makes can really start to wear on you.
That said, Blind is a pretty good book. It documents a few months in the life of a young Bay Area SHARP (Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice) named Bryant. I’ve always felt that punk and its various offshoots are so goddamn hard to fit into fiction: writers run the risk of either glossing over certain things to make the whole wacky “punk” thing more palatable or compartmentalized, or they write about it in such an insular fashion that only kids already well-immersed in the scene will know what the fuck you’re talking about. It’s the same, I assume, with skinhead culture, but Rodriguez does a deft job of showing us the basics tenets of an anti-racist skin’s “customs” or core beliefs without treating the reader like he or she is a fucking imbecile.
Another thing I appreciated was Bryant’s struggle that came with the divisiveness of immersion in a subculture: the dichotomy between that sense of pride in belonging to something larger than yourself, tempered with the danger of becoming just another yes-man to what the doctrine says is right. Rodriguez also does a great job of introducing us to the other major players in the book: Bryant’s best friend Eddie, Phil, the skin that originally got him into the scene, his girlfriend Lori, Mark, the leader of the crew of racist skins, etc. Bryant’s a likeable character, smart and questioning and, most importantly, fallible and believable. The story moves along fairly well; I don’t want to give a lot away, but when Eddie dies after getting jumped by a crew of black kids, it instigates a chain of events that really jumpstarts the plotline. Like I said before, it was a good read: I’ve really got no interest in skinhead culture whatsoever, SHARP or not, but I was hooked on Blind within the first few pages. There’s something to be said for writing that can do that to someone.
Still, there are a few things I really don’t get about Blind and its author: how someone who’s obviously such a good writer, who’s managed to craft a novel that I actually read in about a day, can fall victim to such basic errors as poor grammar and spelling. I don’t know if Rodriguez didn’t have anyone edit the manuscript, or if whoever edited the novel didn’t catch the errors either, but they’re weird ones, glaring ones that are shockingly easy to spot
I mean, “eachother” is not a word, it’s two words. This shows up over and over and over again throughout the novel.
Another quick example: “Nothing.” she tells me. There’s supposed to be a comma there, dude, not a period. Grammatical errors like this are placed repeatedly throughout the book, probably during 90% of the dialogue. I mean, honestly, it wouldn’t matter to me in the slightest if it was just here and there, but Rodriguez has written the entire novel like that, and it’s as jarring the 705th time as it is the first.
The other slight complaints I’ve got is that there are moments in the plotline when the veneer of believability seems to get stretched a little thin; everyone seems to either be related to or live on the same block as someone else, which could work in a small town setting, but we’re talking about the Bay Area, you know? And the ending wraps up a little too nicely. I understand that that’s how people often want their fiction to read, all the threads tied up, but the way it was handled was just a little too precise. But I guess I can’t get much more specific without giving the story away.
Still, when looking at the comparative desert that is quality punk fiction and all of its sub-genres, it’s best to not get too fucking picky. Because despite these critiques (the grammar and spelling can easily be fixed in a subsequent edition), Blind really is good and well worth reading. I, for one, hope that Rodriguez keeps writing and perfecting his craft, because there’s definitely a talent there, and hopefully he’ll be able to hit us with another book before too long. —Keith Rosson (Kendall Rodriguez, 8780 Floral St., Gilroy, CA 95020, punklit.com)