Bookshots: 'Flushboy' by Stephen Graham Jones
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who Wrote it?
Stephen Graham Jones, poster boy for the prolific, author of too many books to count (or, more specifically: 10 novels, three collections and one novella, according to his most recent bio).
Plot in a Box:
A teenage boy runs the gauntlet of youth while working at his father's drive-thru urinal.
Invent a New Title for this Book:
The Catcher in the Hut
Read This If You Like:
Coming of age tales, potty humor, water sports.
Meet the Book's Lead:
The titular Flushboy, a sixteen year-old kid with family issues, girl problems, and the most humiliating job imaginable.
Said Lead Would Be Portrayed In a Movie By:
Jesse Eisenberg, circa the year 2000; or Joel Courtney from Super 8, if he hasn't gotten too awkward yet.
Setting: Would You Want To Live There?
Not sure exactly what state Flushboy is set in, but since almost the entirety of the action takes place in The Bladder Hut, I'll have to pass. I don't think I'd even want to drive through that town, let alone the Hut.
What Was Your Favorite Sentence?
If it's possible to cry out your urethra, then that's what I did that day.
If Stephen Graham Jones has written a bad book, I haven't read it. I know my opinion might be considered biased, seeing as how he's a friend and neighbor of the site, but go ahead, ask around. There are plenty of people out there willing to corroborate my claims. Stephen is the real deal. The man can write his ass off.
This time around, he's given us a unique take on the coming of age story by cleverly replacing the "dung" in Bildungsroman with urine. (In fact, even though it makes absolutely no sense, I'm coining the term Bilpissroman right now.) Think back to the worst job you ever had. Unless it involved crime scene cleanup or animal insemination, you never had it as bad as Flushboy. In addition to the normal, everyday problems of your average teenager, he has to deal with the Freudian implications of his father's fascination with urine. In fact, he has to sling hot jugs of the stuff every day after school. You know how they used to call oil "black gold?" Well, to our protagonist's father, urine is yellow oil (even though the real money is in the up-sales).
Sound out there? It is. But it's also 100% grounded. Stephen remembers what it was like to be a teenager, and is extremely adept at embodying that voice. The realities of working at a drive-thru urinal, as experienced by the avatar Flushboy, are rendered across-the-board relatable with complete assurance. It's like he is Flushboy. It's like we all are.
The book is also gleefully funny, gross in all the right ways. The amount of inventiveness on display is staggering, considering the entire novel is one big pee joke. To sustain the concept for as long as Stephen does, with as much emotional resonance—that takes skill. Highbrow, meet lowbrow. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the novel that inspires a generation of kids raised on Farrelly Brothers movies to get serious about writing.
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