This the smartest “dumb” book I’ve read in ages.
Wred Fright has tackled many difficult tasks. 1.) Making me care about college students’ lives, even if they are in a garage band. 2.) The original incarnation of the PFE was serialized in zines—kinda like a modern day Tale of Two Cities but much shorter (and without beheadings)—and, yet it stands the strongest as a complete novel because the longer I was in each of the character’s heads, the more I enjoyed the momentum of the book. Reading PFE was like hopping on a barely moving freight that gains speed. It was really hard to jump away from when it started hauling along. 3.) Wred’s omniscient control of both the plot and the characters is, well, unfuckingbelievable (you will also learn the name of the literary device of adding a swear word in the middle of an existing word in the book).
The format of the book is that it’s told in almost linear time through the eyes of the four main characters in the first person. You are literally in four different heads throughout the entire book. Each character is introduced by name before each section and given a distinctive font to help you along, but even without such graphic design aids, each character quickly develops on their own. Each chapter is headed by A-side and B-side song titles that hint at the contents of the chapter, and the chapters themselves are broken into song parts: Intro, Verse, Chorus, Coda. All of this would be “fancy” or “precious” if that was all there was to the book, but Wred infuses a tremendous amount of tenderness and grit—and love, confusion, squirrel jihads and squirrel counter insurgencies, and catching toast with a baseball mitt—all around the lives of these four very likeable dudes in a small band in a middle-sized city in America. It was very relatable to a DIY punk rocker, such as myself.
Back to the “dumb” part. Much like Dazed and Confused, where the characters themselves may be lost and searching for meaning, bumbling about, trying to form their belief systems (from getting into fights, to playing the drums nude, to harboring a fugitive who becomes the band manager), Wred’s deft positioning of their dialogue and his awareness of a picture much larger than the characters’ worldview, made me feel that the book was in very secure, hidden hands the entire time. By couching philosophies and lifestyle choices—communism (and the “privilege” of new underwear), paganism (and rent skipping), very loud gay sex (and being bothered solely by the “loud” part)—and compassionately letting the characters roll around in their self-prescribed roles like a field of grass; they were allowed to feel the joy and get the stains all themselves without a finger wagging by the author. They were examined, got inside of, and allowed to speak their minds. Folding that aspect into an already satisfying literary burrito made this book a complete a joy to read and I highly recommend it. PS: Any book that reminds us that the word “nerd” was first coined by Dr. Seuss in If I Ran the Zoo in 1951, will usually score highly by itself. –Todd (Out Your Backdoor, 4686 Meridian Rd., Williamston MI 48895)