Friday, March 2, 2018

Book Review: 'The Summer of Crud' by Jonathan LaPoma

California author Jonathan LaPoma not only writes novels (three to date) but also screenplays, poetry and songs! He earned his BA in history and a secondary education credential from the State University of New York at Geneseo, gathered ideas or seeds for future novels from his travels both the US and Mexico, began writing and winning awards for his works, and now teaches secondary school in San Diego. The handsome young artist explores themes of alienation and misery as human constructions that can be overcome through self-understanding and the acceptance of suffering. His novel UNDERSTANDING THE ALACRÁN (in ways, a prequel to his DEVELOPING MINDS) won the silver medal in the 2017 Florida Authors and Publishers Association President's Awards (Contemporary/Literary category). Now he presents THE SUMMER OF CRUD, which in essence is the prequel to Jonathan’s other two novels.

Jonathan's lyrical writing is evident as he opens his road trip - ‘We cruised down my street and made our way first to the 290, then the 90, and headed southwest around Lake Erie bound for the Great West. Bound for freedom. Buffalo was dark. But soon there’d be light. We’d graduated from college a month earlier, and the road was calling us. We didn’t have any specific plans, only a rough idea of where we were going: across the US to the Pacific, then down to Mexico, stopping to see friends and national parks along the way. Other than to get out on the road and make some music, we never really discussed what we were looking for. But I figured Ian was searching for the same thing I was: something lost. Something buried way deep down. The Spirit of the Sixties. Peace. Love. Freedom of expression. The completion of all our half-written melodies. I wanted to write songs and play them on the streets of the Haight. I wanted to walk the alleys where Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg passed bottles of port while waxing poetic. I wanted to strip down and run screaming through endless green meadows cut through with crystal-clear
mountain streams. I wanted to roll in the dirt and wash myself in the rain and touch the earth and feel my atrophied spirit rise inside of me. America as I’d known it was oppressive and filthy and imbalanced and negligent and abusive. But there had to be a real America out there. A Great America. And there had to be a real me out there too. But given how it started and all I knew of Ian and this world, I should have known our trip was doomed.’

To borrow a bit from the book’s plot synopsis, ‘The summer after graduating from college, 22-year-old Danny Wolinski takes a cross-country US road trip with his friend, Ian Perez, hoping to find the inspiration to reach his songwriting potential, start a band, and avoid student teaching in the fall. Danny is tormented by intense physical and psychological pain and sees music as his only relief, but the more he searches for this inspiration in an America filled with endless parties, heavy drugs, and lost souls, the more he questions whether it exists. A deeply disturbing and psychological coming-of-age novel, THE SUMMER OF CRUD explores the complexities of friendships, masculinity, sex, mental illness, and addiction, and shows how the quest to unlock one’s creativity can both inspire and destroy a person.

That is a fine summary, but what it does not allow is to feel the beauty of Jonathan’s writing style and the infectious manner in which he pulls us into this mélange. Conversations are raw, turgid, and right on the money, and just when the reader feels this is all dark comedy, Jonathan waxes poetic – and the change is seamless. This is yet another brilliant book from a very promising new author. He is swiftly becoming one of America’s important novelists. Grady Harp, February 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.