Bob Thurber is a friend of the blog: He contributed a piece to the When We Fell In Love Series about 1984 and Brave New World, and Dennis highlighted him in his coverage of Hint Fiction last Fall, saying of him and Marcus Sakey “I’d read 300 pages of either of these guys.” Fortunately for Dennis, he can, as Bob’s debut novel Paperboy is to be released by Casperian Books in May.
Not to mince words, but the subtitle to Paperboy is “A Dysfunctional Novel” and there’s no escaping the twisted violence and desperation at the heart of this book.
It’s 1969, the moon launch is coming, and Jack, his older sister Kelly, and his mother live together in a two-room decrepit apartment. Herself the subject of longtime abuse, their mother terrorizes her children with beatings, slaps, threats of hunger and imprisonment and other mental abuses. The rest of the world conspires in its own way to manipulate and torment them. Jack’s paper route gets squeezed between the demands of his crooked boss, and the expectations of his manipulative mother. Kelly finds herself institutionalized.
The two teenagers respond to their precarious state differently. Kelly turns to drugs and sex, while Jack sets himself up as half-child and half-protector. Eventually, they turn to each other for what comfort they can.
I’d say I enjoyed this book, but I can’t help paraphrasing to myself the old Dylan line when someone complimented Blood on the Tracks: I don’t understand how someone can enjoy that kind of pain.
The thing is, reading this book, even at it’s darkest places, you can see Bob Thurber’s fingerprints. He’s so sharp – especially at short fiction – that he writes short burning chapters from which you can’t tear away. He slugs you right in the gut without any maudlin posturing – you’ll probably ask for more. Raw and horrific throughout, but genuinely funny in places, Paperboy is a fine first novel, if hard to bear.
You can read the first seven pages of Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel here.