My Life in Heavy Metal
No other emotion gets so badly abused by the written word. When it comes to romantic love, contemporary fiction tends to resonate with all the subtle poetry of a Britney Spears CD. The sad truth: Nine out of 10 authors writing about the paradoxical passions of the human heart should just shut the hell up.
With My Life in Heavy Metal, Steve Almond proves he belongs among the talented 10th. The Boston author's collection of short fiction offers a dozen snapshots of modern romance, from an unusual love triangle pent up in a Polish apartment to an El Paso music writer torn between the love of a good woman and a lust for bad heavy metal.
Most of these stories are told in the first person, and Almond seems to believe in the give-them-enough-rope approach when it comes to his characters. Again and again, the narrators reveal their own foibles in a far more explicit fashion than any outsider could bear to contemplate. That's not to say that Almond doesn't have sympathy for them. It's just that he makes them profoundly human in both their delusions and desires.
That's certainly true of the excellent "Valentino," in which a group of new high-school grads debate the life lessons that can be drawn from the career of a dead movie star, even as they come to grips with the Darwinian realities of teenage romance. But a deft talent for capturing the pathetic poetry of male bullshit may be Almond's greatest gift, as he demonstrates in "The Last Single Days of Don Viktor Potapenko," which follows an aging lothario nicknamed "The Don." "What happened?" a friend asks the Don after another failed attempt at barroom seduction. "I told her she smelled smoky and sweet. Like cured bacon," the Don replies. "Hint," the friend says. "Don't compare women to pork." Almond even manages to put new twists on the inevitable falling-for-the-wrong-person-at-the-office story. The heroine of "Geek Player, Love Slayer" asks a question most of us, men and women, have put to ourselves at one point or another: "Why does this totally throat-lickable hottie have to be such a shitbrain?"
Almond's conversational style lends an easy authenticity to these tales, which generally maintain just the right weight: light enough to take seriously and heavy enough to laugh at. My Life in Heavy Metal has moments of emotional agony and bittersweet melancholy, but it also offers puns and pratfalls and the pungent odor of sweaty sheets. The result is pretty goddamned funny and pretty goddamned sad--a lot like real-life romance.