Well, I owe the author an apology. Because I honestly didn’t finish this book. I just couldn’t make it all the way through. It just got to be too much.
And that sucks. As someone who has been rejected by nearly fifty literary agents in an attempt to get the “straight” publishing world to put out my novel, and having been soundly trounced, ignored, or shot down every time, I understand that inherent desire to go the DIY route and just put the goddamn thing out yourself. Which Reject has apparently done with Notes On Johnny Nihil.
To his credit, he’s cared enough about a project he’s done to put it out. He has enough faith in himself and the story he’s written to throw it out into the world. Guy wrote a fucking book, right? Why shouldn’t it be put out? The act of self-publishing, in my mind, constantly runs the thin line between the concept of being a) punk as all fuck, or b) incredibly solipsist and vain. Considering the fact that Reject played in the Dimestore Haloes for years and did his time in the Boston punk scene (and considering the fact that this is his first novel), I’m gonna say that the guy’s intentions are good. This is, in its heart of hearts, a punk rock novel. It’s written by a punk rocker, it’s a damaged punk rock love story of sorts, and the guy put it out DIY style. Point is, I think he believed in what he wrote and he put it out himself. The end. For that, man, I raise my glass to him. It was probably a lot of work.
But Reject, I’m really, really sorry. I can totally sense the earnestness you’ve put into this, but this is a really bad novel. In both a literary and visual sense, this thing is really rough. I mean, the manuscript should have been run by some people, even friends of yours who may have sugar coated things a bit. It should have been set in just about anything other than 12-point Courier font with an inch-and-a-half margin on every side and a blank line between every paragraph or line of dialogue: your 228 page book could have been at least halved, wouldn’t have looked like a school paper, and saved you a fuck of a lot on printing. It should actually have the title of the book on the spine, rather than just a blank white bar. And the writing is just, well, bad.
The story centers around Tracy, an alienated teen girl who wants to become a writer and is virtually friendless in her school. Until, you guessed it, she falls in with the punk rockers and begins to immerse herself in punk, just like we all did. She also meets an older punk dude, Johnny Nihil, whose band has kicked him out because of his fervent heroin use. Tracy falls into the mindset that he just needs a good, loving woman to set him straight and she goes about trying to do that. While Nihil plays the junkie game and runs circles around her, she still clings to this idea that he can be “saved,” despite Nihil’s own actions and everything that her friends tell her.
An excerpt from the book, where Johnny has asked Tracy to go buy a lighter for him because he’s too junk-sick to go outside: “As I gazed at this pathetic sight, my anger morphed into a morbid fear. Here was the withered ghost of the confessional prince I imagined would claim his love for me. Within this long stare, a lysergic expanse of terror burst slowly within. I noticed his look. A face like pale vomit plastered to the bone… The stench of the surrounding vomit was sickening, but I had to save my Johnny from the bleak discharge milling around. His face grew sicklier, his bony hand coiled loosely to hold an instrument. I decided I’d go get him his lighter.”
That’s the book in a nutshell, whether Tracy’s listening to records, smoking pot, fucking Johnny in the backseat of a car, talking to her parents, walking down the hall at school. That’s the level, quality, and tone that carries itself throughout the whole book, and it’s just too much. Way, way too much. Sixteen-year-old girls may write like that, but they sure as fuck don’t think like that, and we the readers have to live in Tracy’s head throughout this novel.
Again, Reject deserves his props for believing in himself enough to put the book out. And he probably deserves to have wound up with a reviewer who was willing to make it through the entire novel. But I just couldn’t do it. –Keith Rosson (Blueboy Productions, 4 Fox Run #1, Marshfield, MA 02050)