Jun 30, 09
Read in June, 2009
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. However, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer here because I know many of you are sensitive about profanity in books and this one has A LOT. You don't even get through the first line without encountering the f-word (best first line of a book ever, by the way). Personally, I wasn't offended by the language in the book. I thought it added a genuine voice to the character, much as I felt toward the profanity used in Lush Life by Richard Price. But, I felt like I needed to give you all a warning, just in case.
So, about the book. Banned for Life is told by the main character, Jason, who came of age listening to punk and getting involved in several punk bands with his best friend, Peewee. Both were inspired by the legendary Jim Cassady, lead singer of Rule of Thumb. The book is written as if Jason is telling us the story as it all happened. I really enjoyed this way of writing because it felt like I was having a conversation with the main character - as if I was sitting there listening to him tell me his story.
The book starts off with Jason as an adult, telling us about how punk eventually led him to Los Angeles and into the filmmaking industry. He's fairly unsuccessful, as many are in this industry. Then he meets a girl and his life takes a bunch of twists and turns because of her. He ends up seeking out his old hero, Jim Cassady, who had all but disappeared from the map until Jason's girlfriend helps find him.
At this point we learn why and how Cassady really effected Jason's life. We learn all about what happened to Jason during his punk years: how he started hanging out with Peewee, how they started their first band, how that first band broke up, and how he ended up in L.A. I thought this was by far the best part of the book.
And then it gets back to the Cassady part, which got a little weird in parts and bothered me a lot once I got to the end of the book because there was no real resolve with the Cassady character. It was just a little weird to spend so much time on this character to only have it just end the way it did.
In the same way, I had difficulty with the ending of the book. I don't want to give it away for those of you who will go out and read it, but it ended a little too shiny happy for me. I was actually relieved for some happiness at the end of the book after all the downer stuff that happened in the middle part, but at the same time I felt it was a little too neat.
Anyway, there's also this whole side story with Jason and his girlfriend, who is actually married, which, of course, causes a ton of drama throughout the book. What I found funny about this whole thing was how long it took Jason to realize that maybe the husband was actually a good guy and that the girl was just stringing them both along this whole time. It's interesting how the people IN affairs can never see their role in it.
There's a lot of good stuff in this book - some commentary on the homogenization of society, an inside look at the underground punk scene, and some great descriptions of both New York City and Los Angeles. There are also some really great descriptions in general. Haney is able to create some great visuals with his words. For example, here's one of the early descriptions of Peewee:
"At fifteen he'd soaked up more knowledge than most people twice and three times his age, and he'd ramble through it in breathless monologues, veering from subject to subject like a house-trapped sparrow trying to find an open window: it's here, it's there, it's in the kitchen, it's in the attic now."
I love that he creates a sense of how Peewee talks by using that sparrow. Somehow it really made sense to me.