When Friends Review
There has been a lot of debate and controversy lately about so-called “friend and family” reviews and their inclination to be over-exuberant in their praise. I’ve given my thoughts on that issue before, from the perspective of author with whom I have developed online friendships. Oddly, almost none of my flesh-and-blood friends have written reviews, although I have received a fair number of emails, letters and phone calls. This is awfully gratifying, to say the least.
But I received an email last week from “Kyle,” a young fella for whom I have high regard and more than a little affection. He is one of my “music connections,” the best friend of Patrick McDermott, an aspiring musician and son of onetime professional musician, now venture capitalist, Chuck McDermott. We all have quite a bit of fun the weekend after Thanksgiving, when Chuck opens his house up to his musician friends (and half the town of Cohasset, it seems) for a music orgy now referred to as “Chuckapalooza” (not this one, though).
Anyway, Chuck was kind enough to buy several copies of Diary of a Small Fishas Christmas presents last fall. He dished them out to family members (including his mother), and I think the copy he gave to Patrick was passed along to Kyle (or maybe the lad actually bought one!).That was last November. So I got an email from Kyle last week. I’m just going to paste it here, with minor editing to remove insinuations of illicit behavior (which are not true).
I do this because, of course, the flip side of friends writing insincere public reviews is friends sending you unsolicited private feedback.
Anyway, here it is:
I have wanted to send you this email for over a year. No sense in making excuses as to why it took me so long to finish reading your book, as most of them are self deprecating, point being, I read it. In fact, I just finished it. So forgive me if my assessment of the work bares stylistic similarities to the author, I am nothing if not a sponge.
Great fucking work, man.
I had a sense of what to expect just from reading the back of the book, but really I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I received your book in the mail. Little did I know I’d be laughing through most of the read, and crying tears, both sad and happy, toward the end. You hit all of the emotional chords, but really what I enjoyed the most was laughing at this book; “Pussy, I had pussy for breakfast. The breakfast of champions.”
You also elicited two other reactions from me; thirst and hunger. When you’re writing a story about a guy in this position, obviously a great deal of fine food and beverage are going to be in play. You not only include this all with great detail; names of specific cuisines, wines and liquors, their textures, tastes and resulting emotions, but you do so without sounding like a twat. Their existence in the story is necessary, but also powerful; when I read this book I wanted to eat what Paul was eating, and I always found myself itching for a cold one before getting past too many pages. The indulgence only helped amplify the reading experience. (And PS your shout out to Strahm in the acknowledgements only strengthened the fact that I miss you sonofabitches…are you supposed to use parenthetical stanzas to digress in a letter or is that faux pas?)
One theme that really struck a chord with me was paternal admiration. I’ve heard you speak on occasion of your father and your adoration of the man certainly shines through Mr. Forte. Maybe sometime you can tell me some things about your dad, I’d like that.
Now the love story in this is fabulous for a number of reasons. One, you held off on the sex. Not having your protagonist bang his female counterpart for a number of months was, to me, a lesson in life easier read than done. But it was so vital for Shannon to have good reason not to fuck Paul before it was time that when it came down to it, the act was so much greater than the first night the two met. That’s an adults understanding, and a young man’s lesson to learn. While I spent a long time distrusting Shannon (actually from the get go) she ended up proving herself as possible the strongest character in the story. This particularly comes through during Kate’s decline in health and ultimate death. This is when Shannon really wins me over, even though I think the intention was to have her “in” much sooner. It took a few paragraphs for me to realize that when Kate moved to Boston, I had lived that scene before when reading Uneasy. While that first time elicited much of the same emotion I had during Small Fish, knowing the characters and the history allowed me to see it as a new experience, and it was beautiful. I fell irrevocably in love with Shannon after that.
Christ…fuckin Kilroy. Everyone knows a Kilroy. Perhaps not the same caliber of sociopath, but we all know one. Kilroy was a great representation of why we see the corruption we see, even within the circles of people who are meant to stand against corruption. You hope that all the Bernies we encounter will ultimately get what’s coming to them, and shit was I glad to see Stacey come in and arrest his ass. Can’t say I “saw it coming” with the silence from the FBI, but it all made sense once the cards fell.
And that sort of leads me to my last thought for this message, though I hope we’ll have some time soon to do some face to face jiving, the story line had all the elements of what you’d consider to be ideal. Several story lines unravel throughout the story that without ease are finally woven together in the end. I’ll admit that when I saw the page numbers approaching 369 I thought “How the fuck’s he gonna wrap this up, it’s almost over!” but you did it with a bang. You couldn’t end that story without Kilroy getting his, and get it he did. Part of me wishes we could have seen the jury deliberations, considering how heavily Kilroy put his credibility on the line just through his courtroom etiquette. Then again, I’m no Sam Waterston so I can’t gage courtroom etiquette any further than my golf course etiquette, which was also enlightened by the book.
So there it is, my much overdue personal review of your book. I thought it was fucking brilliant and hope we can discuss it further soon. I am to lend the book to Bob Driscoll, who you’ve met in the past at Chuckapalooza, and I’ll be sure to pass along any of his notes.
Only other thing I’ll say is to reiterate, I miss you man. I know I missed Chuck’s acoustic night and with it, good QT with you, Chuck, Strahm and others. I’m livin’ in Southie (L & Marine, so not far from Shannon) and working in the financial district (balls deep in the setting of the book). Maybe we can get together soon so we don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving.
Thank you, Kyle. You have a nice way of expressing yourself. Especially this one:”Not having your protagonist bang his female counterpart for a number of months was, to me, a lesson in life easier read than done.”
Spoken like a 30 year old.
To all of you reading this – if you are ever close to Boston at Thanksgiving time, and you want to participate in a great music experience, you cannot do better than Chuckapalooza. And you can’t do better for friends than Kyle, Patrick, Chuck and a lot of others. I’m a lucky fella.
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Tags: Border Road, Chuck McDermott, Chuckapalooza, diary of a small fish, Patrick McDermott, South Boston