4 Stars: Strongly Recommended
I'm a fan of Duke Haney. I fell in love with his novel Banned For Life, which I reviewed here in March. As a struggling actor, screenplay writer, musician, and author, I don't think there is anything out there that this guy hasn't seen or done first hand... and in Subversia, his newest release - an autobiographical collection of stories/essays - he puts it out there, "warts and all", for the whole world to read.
From attending summer camp at the age of 10 under the perverted eye of a Camp Director who took naked photographs of the boys, to finding himself plagued by compulsive-obsessive thoughts of murdering his family, to chance encounters with Elliot Smith and Al Pacino, to spending 9 years of his life writing and rewriting Banned... Duke allows us to walk a mile in his well-worn yet incredibly hip shoes.
Subversia reads like a conversation between two very close friends. Tweeting with Duke as I read through the book, I explained to him that it's almost as though he is sitting beside me at a bar, sharing stories of his childhood and young adult life over a couple of beers. These are the sort of things you talk about when you're on a first date with a girl; embarrassing stories that you think might impress her, or get her giggling; horrific stories that will make her gasp; stories that allow you to show her your scars. These are the things that made you who you are, and you want her to either accept them, or run away screaming.
"Forever Strangers" reveals his tender, thoughtful side - discussing the millions of strangers who weave in and out of our lives, and the few who manage to make an impact as they pass through. This is a topic I could talk forever on. It begs us to ask the age-old questions - What's our purpose? Why am I here? Does anything I do really matter?
"The Uninvited" shows his vulnerable, easily spooked side - hearing strange noises in the house, calling a friend on the phone contemplating the place being haunted, only to find that a big ass rat has moved in! And then contemplating how the heck to rid himself of it. This one made me giggle, because (1) I am terrified of ending up someplace that is haunted, and so every noise I hear immediately starts me thinking of ghosts and spirits and (2) if you swap "rat" for "spider" I would be climbing the walls in fear until I knew the damn thing was dead, dropped into the toilet, and flushed away for good. (For those of you who read this story: Duke tells me that, to this day, he doesn't know what happened to the rat.)
In "Romance, Bromance, and Deja Vu" he teaches us that yes... men ARE like women. They can get catty and let people come between them too.
Drug abuse, wild punk rock concerts, a short lived James Dean icon phase, a car accident that nearly killed him, all of the shitty side jobs he worked and screenplays he wrote to keep a dollar in his pocket... it's all in here.
Most of these essays were previously published on The Nervous Breakdown, an incredibly cool online magazine that Duke regularly contributes to.
My hat off to Duke. For having the guts to put his life stories out there, in black and white, to be dissected by the public, because that is not always an easy thing to do. Man, This guy can write. And he deserves to be read. I have a much greater appreciation for his novel Banned now, having read everything he went through and understanding more of what went into it.
I also want to thank Duke - for supplying me with a signed, tea-stained copy of this book to review. I will cherish it always. (and yes, I sniffed the pages.) And for humoring me over Twitter this past week.
Congrats to The Nervous Breakdown as well, for this is their very first release as a brand spankin' new publishing company (TNB). I cannot wait to see what you guys are serving up next!