How the Hula Girl Sings: by Joe Meno, 209 pgs. By Sean Carswell

Punk Planet columnist Joe Meno hit it kind of big with his latest novel, Hairstyles of the Damned. It was picked for the Barnes & Noble Discovery Series, it’s sold tens of thousands of copies, Focus Features optioned the movie rights, and Meno was on NPR stations from coast to coast. It’s one of the rare cases in which someone who deserves recognition actually gets it. Meno is a hell of a writer. He’s earned all the accolades showered on him. In the aftermath of all of this, Akashic Books has re-released Meno’s second novel (the one that he wrote prior to Hairstyles), How the Hula Girl Sings. It’s essentially a crime novel, but it starts well after the crime, with the protagonist, Luce, getting out of jail. The crime is three years old and now Luce is heading back to his hometown to try to put his life back together. Waiting for Luce is his friend, a gentle giant named Junior. Junior has done time for murder. He and Luce became friends in prison. Also waiting for him is the woman who drove him to crime, Dahlia, and the latest temptress in his life, Charlene. Luce juggles the women, the temptation, and the demons haunting both him and Junior. Throughout the novel, there is forever the threat of slipping. Luce is exactly the kind of guy who wants so badly to not fuck up and land back in prison that it seems almost inevitable that he will. It’s a tender story about a young, fucked up kid. Hula Girl borrows a lot from Jim Thompson’s novels in the sense that, like Thompson, Meno wraps deeper social themes up in a noir thriller. Meno hasn’t mastered the hardboiled perfection that Thompson has. Meno’s characters are more vulnerable, more openly seeking acceptance and love, whereas Thompson’s characters seem to embrace their doom. Ultimately, this embraced doom makes hardboiled novels so satisfying, and no one does it like Thompson. Still, Hula Girl is a solid, enjoyable novel. Meno has a way of opening up the raw nerves of his characters and laying them out on the table for anyone to take a look at. Honesty like this is rare in books. And while Hula Girl isn’t as accomplished of a novel as Hairstyles, it’s still a good read and more than worth picking up. –Sean Carswell (Akashic Books, PO Box 1456, NY, NY 10009)