Monday, October 28, 2019

Book Review: 'Bread Bags & Bullies: Surviving the '80s' by Steven Manchester

Bread Bags & Bullies by Steven Manchester

‘Some things never change’ – journey back to the 80s

This reviewer became acquainted with the very special novels of Steven Manchester with his novel `The Unexpected Storm: The Gulf War Legacy' and many short stories that deal with one man's view of the universe in a lighter tone. That followed with his TWELVE MONTHS, GOODNIGHT, BRIAN, ROCKIN' CHAIR, GOODNIGHT, GOOSEBERRY ISLAND, PRESSED PENNIES, THE CHANGING SEASON - each of which allowed entry into his ability to address end of life situations, family relationships as challenged by cancer, by having a child with a critical disease, with death, and with more. The aspect of Manchester's books that is dependable is his ability to introduce delicate subjects without fear and still make the stories flow with a sense of familial love, humanistic views and spiritualism. And yet always there is the gift of his ability to be a fine storyteller in the true sense of the term.

In this spectacularly successful novel - BREAD BAGS & BULLIES – Steven escorts in tie to the 1980s and with great facility manages to not only recreate that era, but also simultaneously explores the memory road form the adult version of the main character years later. First things first, the storyline is as follows: ‘It’s the winter of 1984. Twelve-year old Herbie and his two brothers—Wally and Cockroach—are enjoying the mayhem of winter break when a late Nor’easter blows through New England, trapping their quirky family in the house. The power goes out and playing Space Invaders to AC DC’s Back in Black album is suddenly silenced—forcing them to use their twisted imaginations in beating back the boredom. At a time when the brothers must overcome one fear after the next, they learn that courage is the one character trait that guarantees all others. This hysterical coming-of-age tale is jam-packed with enough nostalgia to satisfy anyone who grew up in the ‘80s or at least had the good fortune to travel through them.’

The sense of recollection radiates form the following lines – “Even when you’re afraid, really scared, and it’s hard to stand up,” Pop told me and my two brothers, “that’s exactly when you have to stand up and be a man. You’ll regret it, if you don’t. Trust me, it’ll haunt you your whole life. Do you understand me, boys?” “Yeah, Pop, we do,” we sang in chorus. With tattooed biceps and dark muttonchops, our father was handsome in a James Dean-grown-older kind of way. “You make sure of it,” he added, his brown eyes now distant and sad. “Fear or no fear, just make sure you stand up.” “We will, Pop.” “Okay then.”

Steven is able to deliver difficult messages in a manner that signifies he is wise beyond his years. Each novel grows and with that Steven’s survey of the complete cycle of life. He will be around for a long time if there are more stories like this one to share.

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.