Monday, August 23, 2010

Punk Rock Lit.

Gerry LaFemina's first collection of short stories, "Wish List," grabbed my fast beating heart. I picked up LaFemina's book in the local bookshop sometime in February when I was visiting my hometown, Frostburg, MD. I like to visit Main Street Books even if I'm just in for the day. And when I'm visiting I like to buy local writers' work, if I can. So I did just that.

After I bought the book and returned to Pittsburgh, school got in the way, thesis writing ate my time, and "Wish List" sat on my bookshelf, but I never forgot about it. Mostly the cover would draw my eye, the front of this book is like a poster for the way my husband's bachelor pad looked when we first started dating: amp, guitar, and a mess of music on the floor.

I feel connected to this book on many levels. Gerry was my undergrad mentor. I worked for him as an intern at Frostburg State University's Center for Creative Writing where he directs. I not only love Gerry's poetry, but love what he has done for my hometown and my alma mater as well. It was very exciting for me when his fiction collection came out. I've been terribly homesick since I've moved to East Texas in June, and so I started to read the book in late July, and I've been thinking about it since then. I am not bias when I say these stories kick ass.

The characters love what they love: punk music, vinyl, small clubs, and one another, but in a heartbreaking and ever so human way. Gerry creates a raw world in his stories, a world that can be as fast as a D beat, but slow as trying to find the place we're meant to be in life.

I want to say my favorite of this collection is the title story,"Wish List," a story where love saves the fucked-up-ness of an ex-junkie and his girlfriend. But I was equally moved by "Proofeading America" in which a man obsesses over the grammatically incorrect signage of fast food joints, street signs, and weekly local papers in small town Michigan. (When I read "Proofreading America" I related, and I thought of the obnoxiousness of misspelled teetotaler signs. If you believe in something, get it right.) But this story digs deeper than linguistics. It spills hard truths (you'll have to read it if you wand to know what they are).

Reginald McKnight's blurb on the back of "Wish List" claims, "This is Punk in short story form..." and I couldn't agree more. These stories are everything I wish I could have read when I was fourteen and wearing ripped jeans and listening to local Western MD punker groups like Undercover Nuns. But I'm glad I read the book now because I get a lot of what I wouldn't have gotten then: love fades, we have to reshape it. Life is as long as a good Buzzcocks song (could be infinite if played over and over as Steve does with his favorite records in "Wish List"), but really, there is grit out there, and it's unavoidable and LaFemina gives it to us.

Damn, this is a good book. Thank you, Gerry, for writing it. Thank you Marick Press for publishing it.

If you're done reading this, go out there and read "Wish List."

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