ARE STARS (Random
House UK) by Kevin Sampson. Fiction, 2006. 249 pages. Jonathan Cape, .
I love funny, quirky stories. I really do. But a story that can make me
feel all sorts of emotions- truly make me feel alive- is hands down the
best read for me. Is it obvious where I’m going with this?
Kevin Sampson is, admittedly, one of my favorite authors and it’s
a cryin’ shame he’s not topping the best seller lists here. I’ve
read all six of his previous novels, and there ain’t a bad one in the
bunch (and a few, like Outlaws,
Powder, and Awaydays, are
fucking classics). And with that said, I think Stars Are Stars may actually be my favorite, and it ain’t just the
booze I felt I needed to help me start writing reviews again talking.
The story takes place in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and focuses
on teenage Danny May, a streetwise young artist from Liverpool’s tough
Toxteth neighborhood. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a character whose
emotional core has been so vibrantly, brilliantly described as young Mr.
May. Early on we learn how, when the planets align, Danny gets The
Thrills, a state of anticipation and joie de vivre so pronounced that it
made me vicariously giddy. He’s the kind of character that despite his
obvious flaws, there’s no way to not love.
Danny has always wanted to go to art school, and to save money to
achieve this goal, he goes out nightly to various dives to sketch
Liverpool’s most drunken and psychotic for a quid a pop. It’s a hard
yet interesting life, but once he meets the exquisitely maddening Nicole,
a couple years his senior and already a student at one of the local
universities, his world will never be the same again. They embark on a
complex love/hate relationship, the intricacies of which will have you
hearkening back to your first real, fucked up, insane yet beautiful
relationship many, many times. Danny’s highs and lows are incredibly
intense and delicious and palpable, and the dead-on soundtrack
(unabashedly Joy Division and Bowie-centric, with a lot of other very much
of the times songs) makes it even better.
Stars Are Stars builds
up to a crashing, banging, awesome and redemptive climax that I’m not
going to give away here, but one that I definitely recommend you discover
for yourself. Best book of 2006 so far (edging out Irvine Welsh’s Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs by just a little bit). –Ben