The Boston Ranter: Slanted Vignettes from a Native New Englander by Layden Robinson is a very special (or specific) kind of book. I could sort it as a summary of “eccentric” stories based on memories and experiences, feelings of our main character, Jawhnie, who gives us an insight of his tortuous life, focusing on his dad and mom among others. All of them complex and psychedelic minds in their own ways. “Being hyperactive is like having crack energy, but you never come down.”
Turbulence, obsession, illness, compulsion rule the plot “[…]the most invigorating about fighting? Is if you are superior, or get lucky and get that magical shot in and see you enemy buckle. It is a feeling of superiority and power on a total over level and I am obsessed with victory on every level.”
He talks about his Dad as a figure he deeply loved but always surrounded by disappointment and the aching of a more responsible partnership.
“The stories I heard about my Dad growing up ranged from him stepping down from no one and being an aggressive angry young man, to later on taking up the art of drugs and booze addiction to cruise through this thing we call “life”, taking the role of hedonist to a whole new level and feeling unhappy deep down to the core.”
Otherwise, Jawhnie tenderly evocates his mother “Mah”. “My Mah is the absolute shit. Even though, when I was child, she would discipline me, watch my every move, and not let me get away with murder, now I realize her heart has always been in the right place.”
As an important influence in his path of life, he soaks the thread with that nostalgy of a flower grown in the mud. Even bloomed.
Then we arrive at Nana, who our young boy adores and the author describes viscerally but lovingly “Smoking a cig and sipping her nightly cranberry and vodka, my Nana would call for us when it was time to eat, always hooking me up with the extra garlic salt I had an addiction for.” And again, spreading drowning feelings all over the reader “I told her through brutal tears, “It’s okay, Nana. You can go. You can go.”
From that point on which I consider the end of the introduction of the great influences in Jawhnie, the author throws plenty of short stories about other characters, situations (awkward of course) such as his parents’ divorce, his babysitter, neighbors, dreams and just… madness insights.
Then, what is that rare piece about? The author has what I call myself a “kaleidoscopic writing”. Maybe you’re not understanding the whole complexity of your character’s mind but you can’t help going on trying to put together the million tiny shiny colored pieces of that intricate story. Every chapter is composed by a single page (or even less) so it makes it still more vividly.
With this book in your hands, you get plenty of different strong emotions. At first, perhaps you have to read again (and again) to understand the first pages and get the tone of Robinson. Once you catch it, then you start diving in. Some of the chapters are terribly sad and depressing, where Jawhnie normalizes situations which would bring insanity to anyone of us.
In other occasions, the situations get so awkward that readers will find themselves even laughing. “[…]the drive thru at Burger King, where my Mah would be screaming into the intercom to order. “CAN YOU HEAR ME!” My Mah was truly mentally ill on this level, screaming like a banshee, terrorizing the employee on the other end who was taking our order.”
Personally, what I loved about that book was the capability of the author of melting heartbreaking and miserable emotions with encouragement and even humor. You don’t know what you feel when you’re reading it, and that is a very special feature in a book.
About grammar, structuring, and technical aspects… what can I say, it’s a unique book which doesn’t attend to standards. Tons of slang, different accents, bad words and rambling thoughts. But those are precisely the essence of the book and what makes it just, different.
Lovers of the abstract, bizarre and unconventional, this is your book.
Review written by Mar G.-Amorena
Contact the author
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