Dead Boys: Stories
So there's this guy, right? He hangs around stale bars and even staler doughnut shops until one day he's tasked with handing over a bar buddy's ashes to his estranged daughter and thinks he's found love. Then there's this other guy: He's starting a new job as a security guard when, of all things, some masked gunmen hold up the grocery store and our rookie has to become a hero--fast. Not to mention the upstanding older brother who tries desperately to get his baby sister straight by steering her away from drugs, a demanding ex-husband, and a flaky new boyfriend.
These are some of the eponymous boys who populate Richard Lange's first collection of stories, Dead Boys. If you can think of a well-worn male stereotype, it's in here: the gruff ex-con, the bitter drunk, the hopeless junkie, the down-and-out prodigal son, the existentially numb cubicle rat. Responsibility, fortitude, genuine courage, and unpolluted passion are nowhere to be found; these men, most of them struggling through the quicksand of their 20s and 30s, are karma bums.
You would think this kind of drama would make for good reading. And for the first few stories, it does. These boys--with names like Moriarty, Karl, and Bud--reflect a malaise all too familiar to those of us just trying just to get by in the world. They aren't knights-errant or suave lotharios, though they'd sure like to be. In "Loss Prevention," the aforementioned security guard spends his days fantasizing about having sex with Scarlett Johansson; Spencer Wright, in "Long Lost," is upstaged by an ex-con sibling whose rough life experiences perhaps reflect a more fulfilled existence. Halfway through the collection, however, when the next tired soul launches into his tale of disillusionment, the characters and the stories begin to bleed together--surpassed instead by a vision of Los Angeles as an emotional purgatory where random gunshots echo in the night and forest fires continually bloom on the horizon.
Solutions or epiphanies are rarely reached in Dead Boys, and when they are it is usually at the price of death or (most often) the persistence of some grand, inevitable threat. "Safe--oh, please let us be safe--for at least another day," a successful bank robber prays, while in a seedier part of town a mortally wounded man comes to a more fatal realization: "There exist certain wildflowers that must be burned in order to bloom, and who's to say I'm not one of them?"