I promised a review of “Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way” by Bryan Charles quite awhile ago but things got in the way and though I finished the book over a week ago I haven’t had time to write a blog on it until now. I first found this book on a library shelf and I was immediately attracted to its fantastic cover and unwieldy long name. Acting on these very superficial opinions I checked it out, went home, curled up on a sofa and began to read it. This is what I found:
“When you grow up you can be anything, they said, but that’s a lie too. So I go to band practice and plug in the Twin Reverb, the Stratocaster, and the noise is a beautiful plane crashing into my face. So I make a gun with my finger and thumb and aim it heavenward. So I dream of a landscape, this one, darkened by the slow rolling shadows of cloud-sized tits.”
I don’t like dealing with long quotes but the first paragraph of this novel sums up everything this book has to offer far better than I could say it. Angst, music, lust. The three driving themes of this book have been done time and time again by hundreds of different authors but Charles manages to make it seem fresh in no small part due to his writing style. Every sentence is expertly crafted and I could go to any page at random and pull a tragically beautiful quote out.
This is the main reason why (full disclosure time) this isn't the first time I’ve read this book. It’s been about a year since I first read it and I finally found a used copy of it for sale prompting this recent reread. Though I loved it the first time, now that I’ve read it again I can easily say it’s become one of my favorite books.
Despite this, I should acknowledge it’s not a book for everyone. The basic plot is about 17-year-old Vim Sweeney’s coming to age in early 90’s Michigan. This means angst and a lot of it. Vim’s motives aren’t always obvious and he’s not a completely sympathetic character, but that’s really aside the point. He embodies the turmoil that comes with the empty space on the cusp of adulthood and though his actions are sometimes idiotic, in the end he’s really just a pretty smart, kind hearted, lost kid. The supporting characters form an interesting and believable cast, each with enough depth to make them more than just flimsy devices to help Vim along with his journey. Though the writing and cast is sound, this book will probably appeal most to people who were teens in the early 90’s or people who are currently teens. Even if you don’t fit into either of these categories, if you’re in the mood for a good coming to age story I urge you to give this a try because, if nothing else, there are few books with prose as piercing and poetic as this novel offers. Since I can’t resist I’ll leave you with one final quote:
“I want to take a ten-year shower. There is the night to wash off me, all the doubt and dark things lingering. I feel naked in the brightness now, exposed, like my skin is peeling off and I’m showing her everything, for the first time showing my mother my heart, my fear, the sunken bruises that never heal.”