Band Geek is actually an unpublished manuscript by my friend Dustin Rowles up there, but after some debate I decided to include it in the Cannonball because I read it, so it counts. Normally, the books I review are published and on shelves at Target and Borders and wherever books are sold, so I consider them open game since any one of the four people who may or may not read this on a random basis can go and pick up the book in question. This is a little different, since DR's memoir is still a work in progress (albeit a very fine work, which in my opinion just needs a little fine tuning in spots) and not available to the general public. At any rate, I checked with the main guy after reading it a few weeks ago, and he gave me the go-ahead to do the review, so here it is. My fervent, sincere hope is that it finds its way onto the shelves of bookstores everywhere at some point in the near future and that you all can enjoy it, because it is brilliant.
One of the things that I loved about this high school coming-of-age tale was not so much how Dustin grew, as a person, throughout the course of it, but that I could follow how, as he got older and more mature, the weight of his life grew with him. That's how life actually happens, though you don't see it at the time. It's easy to look back at tenth grade and think, really, those were my priorities? Belonging to a certain social set and having a boyfriend and wearing the right jeans? Did I really not know that life was so much bigger than that? The truth is, those WERE everyone's priorities then. At thirty I can look back and scoff at my superficiality but at fifteen that was the whole of my life; that was all that there was. I was defined by those things. It's intriguing and true to see the author's perspective open up little by little as he realized that there was more to life than that, the most major decision being the one to get himself the hell out of Benton and DO something. It was kind of like starting at the narrow end of a funnel and moving towards the mouth, with Dustin's worldview gradually widening as the months and years pass.
An integral part of Dustin's story is his father, a single parent working two jobs and trying to raise two boys on his own, just doing the best he can and realizing that it's not always enough. What's gifted about the scenes with his dad is that Dustin doesn't build him up to be more than he was, but doesn't tear him down either. He just shows the man for who he was, and that's a rare talent. Dustin's younger brother, a high school dropout with a drug habit whose life is rapidly going nowhere, plays a smaller but also vital role when it comes to the juxtaposition of the life that Dustin has and the life that he realizes he needs to live. Those of us who know Dustin know that he gets the happy ending, but that's not what the book is about. It's about the survival; it's about waking up every day not knowing if you're going to be ignored by your peers or mocked for your shoes, about wondering if you're going to die a virgin, about trying to imagine something bigger than you and getting a little nauseated because you don't even know who you are yet. The entire thing is laced with a wit and humor that keeps it from being too painful, and I admit to the fact that there were times I was laughing so hard that I had to put my head down to catch my breath. By the same token, there were passages that hit me so profoundly I found myself tearing up. The balance is admirable and strong and honest. It's beautiful, and I loved it, and I'm not just saying that because the author is a pal. I'm saying it because it's so very, very true.