Tyler Mcmahon's Reviews > Some Things That Meant the World to Me

Some Things That Meant the World to Me by Joshua Mohr
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's review
Dec 05, 2009

it was amazing
Read in July, 2009

Some Things That Meant the World to Me is the unsettling story of a thirty-year-old San Francisco man named Rhonda, who suffers from depersonalization disorder after a childhood of abandonment and abuse. In between cue-stick beatings, Rorschach tattoos, and botched batches of home-brew wine, he discovers a portal to his past in the dumpster behind a local taquería.
It’s often a plot pitfall when storytellers defer to traumatic childhood episodes once the present-tense drama wanes. And this book does walk that line, spending as many pages in Rhonda’s childhood and adolescence as in his San Francisco here and now. But Mohr somehow manages to make the past convincing as the main event. We want Rhonda to go backwards, through that trapdoor in the dumpster, no matter how traumatic it gets. The story’s structure resembles psychotherapy: a reluctant but fearless inventory of the past in order to piece together some sort of viable future.
If this novel was a boxer and its sentences were punches, it would be all about the jab—that most rapid and relentless of blows, but which is, in fact, a defensive maneuver. Walking another line, Mohr combines the best visceral elements of hard-eyed realism with all the surprises and surreal imagery due a narrator that’s both mentally ill and chronically drunk. Hallucinations and nightmares are present, but sparing. Rhonda’s depersonalization disorder is never a cheap trick. Imagine Fight Club if you were told about the schizophrenia on the first page, none of the personalities were as pretty as Brad Pitt, and the narrator spent the rest of the book with the gun in his mouth.
The energetic prose and the number of scenes in bars will likely draw comparisons to Bright Lights, Big City or perhaps Less Than Zero. Indeed, Mohr’s novel shares traits with the so-called ‘literary brat pack’ of the 1980s: urban aesthetics, self-loathing, an unflinching focus on character which often eclipses narrative. Rhonda, however, is working with a smaller budget, a bigger heart, and deeper scars. Initial reviews of Some Things That Meant the World to Me have brought up Jesus’ Son, which is a sound comparison. However, die-hard Denis Johnson fans will find more common ground with his Resuscitation of a Hanged Man—that underrated benchmark for putting the sick back in quixotic.
Make no mistake: I’m not sad that Mohr’s novel isn’t up there on the lists with the summer bestsellers. I’m hopeful that, as storytelling moves into the twenty-first century, I’ll have more experiences like I had with this book: the discovery of an overlooked voice, which resonates and makes me feel less alone. After all, to borrow one last parallel from music: we wouldn’t buy the same records as our parents, so why should we buy the same novels?
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Michelle Broderick Thanks for the recommendation. Zipped through this book and was sad when there was no more to read!

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