I'd read D.R. Haney's collection of personal essays, Subversia, and really enjoyed it. This naturally lead me to buying a copy of this, his novel. And guess what? I loved it! There is so much STORY in this story! Many people will tell you this is a punk rock novel, but that is so misleading! It's about family and where you come from and where you want to go and how you get there and don't get there. It's about friendships, good ones and bad ones and ones that are both. It's about music and movies and art and the people who MAKE those things, the artists! And it's about love, heartbreaking, uplifting, sexy, passionate LOVE. This novel encompasses big ideas about all these things and relays them in a completely accessible way as if you are just sitting in a bar, throwing back a couple of drinks with the narrator. The novel is written conversationally and it WORKS. D.R. Haney is one hell of a storyteller and I'll be here eagerly waiting for what he writes next.
I enjoyed this book so much that I don't even know where to start this review.
I suppose I could start by saying that I'm extremely picky about the fiction that's written today. Oftentimes it's unoriginal, uninspired, formulaic garbage that lacks any romance and leaves me feeling frustrated because it's clear that the author is trying far too hard to write the next Harry Potter or Twilight series with the movie and merchandising deals that come along with it. And actually, that's another thing I want to emphasize about the fiction that's coming out today: It tries way too hard. There's something to be said of a story that feels effortless in quality, is quietly charismatic, and isn't simply a knockoff story with different character names. D.R. Haney (who prefers to go by 'Duke,' and I know this because I've had the pleasure of getting to know the author personally via lengthy emails and great discussions we've had and continue to have and whom I can consider a good friend of mine--but isn't the reason I love this book) has really done something special here with Banned for Life, and I'll now take a moment to explain what makes this novel so special.
There are two major threads to the plot of Banned for Life (which I'll refer to as BFL from this point): One is a turbulent romance, and it's not your traditional love story by any means; the other is sort of "search and rescue" in which the main character, Jason Maddox, finds his musical idol after this man mysteriously vanished from the punk rock scene, and Jason's subsequent attempt to breathe life back into the now down-and-out musician. Somewhere in there is also the narrator's back story, which details his transformation into a punk in the punk rock scene of the early 1980s after meeting a rather unforgettable character, to whom a privileged few refer as Peewee (but whose actual name is Bernard). Sprinkle in an adulterous 'cougar,' some recreational drug use, the rise and fall of several attempted bands, and the vivid portrayal of the spirit punk rock and, to be honest, you've barely seen the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Not only is this book special because of its fresh content, but it reads like a memoir. BFL doesn't feel like fiction at all; the descriptions and dialogue are portrayed so realistically that it feels like you're reading the author's life story, which is a testament to his talent as a writer. Not a single page read gave the impression of cheap manufactured fiction like most of what you'll find today. I would even go so far as to say Haney has created something that could easily be considered a modern classic in the vain of Hemingway and especially Salinger. There is some real, authentic grit to this tale, and it's also inspirational, hopeful, tragic, funny, and incredibly entertaining on all accounts. I wanted to pace myself as I read so I could really absorb and process what I was reading, but this was extremely hard to do because once I'd pick it up, the book was unbelievably difficult to put down. And when I'd stop reading, I found myself thinking about it and couldn't wait to continue.
I will stop my review here so as not to give away anything to those who haven't read this book yet, but I'll end by saying this: You'll be extremely glad you've read this book once you've actually finished reading it. It was one of the most pleasant reading experiences I've had, and I'd liken reading BFL with getting to know someone and becoming great friends with them. This is an extremely personal book from which you'll come away having gotten to know several interesting, layered people that are so realistic you'll find yourself wishing they existed so you could meet them in person. The plot is multidimensional and definitely present at all points in the book, but this is definitely literary fiction and not an adventure (although the book is by no means short on adventure if that's what appeals to you). And although the punk rock scene has a significant role in BFL, you shouldn't feel like you need to have personal experience with that movement or listen to punk rock in order to enjoy this book. Having had little experience with punk before reading this book, it is almost an empirical study of the essence of punk and what it means to live that lifestyle, but without preaching or lingering excessively on the peripheral. Someone else said it better when they suggested that with BFL, Duke has "captured the spirit of a generation."
From the unforgettable first line to the final pages, its power, raging energy and raw emotion make this a pitch perfect punk anthem.
Essentially, it's a coming of age story complete with its own pounding soundtrack. It manages to combine punk sensibility with a strong storyline with a voice that is both achingly honest and nostalgic.
And it's as masculine as hell.
But it's a testament to Haney's ability, that he manages to craft the most womanly of characters in 'Irina' who is at once both unknowable and immediately familiar from the moment she steps onto the page. His innate sympathy and understanding of even the most complex characters makes you care enough about them to want to know what happens to them from the beginning right through to the end.
Although, it's very much of its time and place, it will have resonance for anyone who lived through the late seventies and eighties. Sprinkled with pop culture and political references, Banned For Life will make you feel like you are living alongside its likeable narrator, Jason. But then again, great writers are able to do this aren't they?
Twisted love story, shockingly real punk rock memoir, classic coming-of-age novel with the seamy side of fallen rock stars in L.A. and even some Euro history (Serbia) thrown in, "Banned for Life" has a lot going on.
This is almost two and a half books in one, but it's so well done the reader won't care about going off into another part of the narrator's story, but will be glad to get back to the heart of the novel. And yet, it's all the heart of the story; it's all important. No part of the novel feels like a digression because it's all excellent.
The voice of "Banned for Life" is spot-on--always sympathetic, never whiny, despite the ups and downs the narrator is describing. We've all been there (had ill-fated or frustrating love affairs, been betrayed by friends, etc.) and this is part of what makes this novel so relatable. At times, it can feel too real, almost exhausting in the way the narrator so accurately captures the angst-filled parts of life.
All in all, this is, however, a very powerful piece of literature. I am glad D.R. Haney wrote it, and I've been recommending this novel as much as I can.
Banned for Life is about as punk rock a book as you're ever going to find. It's a narrative that moves across place, time, age and experience, from a young man's formative experiences growing up in (and escaping from) a country town where he doesn't belong to finding (and losing) a darkly sensual and addictive love in LA, and, finally, a search for both escape and a figure from the past who may or may not be a figure of salvation.
Not necessarily in that order.
The sheer amount of what is going on in Banned for Life is staggering; the richness of the story and the characters is underpinned by a kind of punk rock fury that surges and crashes throughout the interweaving snapshots of the narrator, Jason's, life. This is a book that contains both a coming of age, a loss of innocence, and the birth and death of ideas and ideals in the central characters. Highly recommended, especially for those who have ever wanted to see the world with its skin off.
This book changes each time I read it. There's something very special about the way Haney writes his characters - he clearly puts so much thought into giving them life. They all break my heart and infuriate me and appeal to me with their humanity, and every time I think I've narrowed it down to my favorite character, I have the same feeling I get when people ask me to list my favorite songs or bands. I want to name them all and then I get annoyed at the question. I love this book.
Banned For Life is about punk rock? Sure, just like Moby-Dick is about whales. This is the thrilling story of Jason Maddox, 80s musician turned 90s screenwriter, who embarks on an Ahab-like quest of his own--although the blubbery object of his fascination is a vanished punk-poet. Like Melville, D.R. Haney has created a world so rich in detail, so authentic, so damned cool, you want to take up a harpoon--or, in this case, a guitar--and join the fray. Banned For Life is literary fiction at its best--funny, heartbreaking, hopeful, and every bit as inspiring as the punk music it extols.
This is just a damn good book. The story is always evolving and keeps you hooked the whole way through. The characters are memorable and Haney's knowledge and fondness of the early punk scene in NYC is great. I ate this book up.