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by Marc Spitz.  Fiction, 2003.  347 Pages.  Three Rivers Press- Can I get an amen?  How about a fuck yeah?  This book, William, was really a helluva lot more than nothing.  In fact, it’s bursting with a whole lotta good stuff.  Joe Green (repeatedly asked, “like Mean Joe Green?” just as our author must surely has been asked things such as “like the gaily mustachioed swimmer?”) is a protagonist we all can, for better or worse, identify with.  Okay, well, all of us born between, say, 1967 and 1971 who loved the Smiths and other outside the mainstream acts during our tumultuous, angst-ridden high school years.  But you other sad sacks will like him too, mainly because he’s so damn funny and so self-deprecatingly honest.
     As many of us were, Joe is a child of divorce who begins the ‘80s feeling lost and not knowing just what the fuck he really identifies with.  After a brief, eye-opening love affair with punk rock, he discovers the existence of a mysterious band called the Smiths and becomes absolutely obsessed with them before even hearing them play a note.  When Joe finally does hear them, the combination of Morrissey’s unusual, insightful, clever, often hilarious lyrics and Johnny Marr’s exquisite music gives his life new meaning, and the world takes on a poignancy that he previously couldn’t imagine.  And when the Smiths break up a few years later, it coincides with- and puts an exclamation point on- the end of the most alive, optimistic time he’d ever experienced.
     Years go by and Joe is on the cusp of his dreaded 30s.  After drifting in and out of drug dependency and a listless hopelessness from his college days through his late-twenties, Joe is able to tap into the writing talent he cultivated in high school and becomes a rock journalist for a smart new music magazine called Headphones.  And while that’s all fine and good for a bit and allows him to continually get fucked up and sleep with all sorts of young ladies, his life still feels essentially empty.  Then he meets fellow magazine staffer Miki and his awesome infatuation with her makes life suddenly a lot more worth living.  Turns out they share the exact same birthday and loved the same bands growing up, the Smiths being their mutual favorite.  The fact that she already has a boyfriend slows things down a bit, but when Joe and Miki drunkenly concoct a plan to try to reunite the Smiths and then seriously attempt to follow through with it, Joe starts believing that this scheme will help him feel as alive as he did in high school AND get the girl.  It’s a quest that’s touching and funny and it’s a great read.  And, somewhat predictably (but who gives a shit if it’s predictable, you coldhearted fucks?), Joe figures out how to really become happy along the way.  Redemption through the Smiths, if you will.
     How Soon Is Never has so many joyous, witty ‘80s allusions- both with its prose and some great chapter titles- that I found myself remembering a bunch of things I hadn’t thought about in quite awhile.  The Smiths were, surprise, surprise, one of my favorite bands in high school, but I hadn’t really listened to them in a long time.  Just reading this book got lots of their songs looping through my brain and I eventually dusted off my Queen Is Dead cassette (followed by all the rest of ‘em!) and really listened to these songs for the first time in ages.  When I once again heard Morrissey plaintively croon, “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind” on “I Know It’s Over,” I choked up just as I did when I first heard that line in 1986.  It really struck a chord with me then, and I remember writing this phrase on my wall and trying to recall it whenever I felt myself starting to act like an asshole.  And when “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” a brilliant study of loneliness and adulation if there ever was one, came on, I instantly remembered my old friend Jeff.  While some associate this song with romantic (albeit sort of desperately romantic) feelings, I was always reminded of this kid.  He had cerebral palsy, and I think I was probably the first peer in his 16 years to actually treat him nicely.  Admittedly, I started taking him out with my friends and me (much to their extreme fuckin’ consternation- he could be kind of a pain, truth be told) out of a huge feeling of sorrow for him.  He started dressing like me, buying the music I liked and incessantly calling me.  All it ultimately got him was arrested.  Anyhow, as narcissistic as it sounds, I always sort of thought that was the way Jeff felt about me.  The fact that this book not only entertained the fuck out of me, but also brought me back some memories that I appreciated being able to think about again, made me like it even more.  –Ben Hunter



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