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Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way: A Novel Paperback – June 13, 2006

4.0 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Recent high school grad Vincent Sweeney, though unmistakably sweet, also masquerades as crass, courts his own demise by baiting bar thugs, nurses rock star fantasies with his band, Judy Lumpers (it's grungy in 1992 Kalamazoo, Mich.), and plays indifferent after losing his virginity in a one-night stand. After flippantly quitting his dishwashing job, Vim (from a childhood mispronunciation) runs up against his stepfather's blue-collar bitterness with quiet acceptance and embarks on a short-distance road trip. Fits of rage and exaggerated lust, tinged with self-loathing, erupt from within a searing numbness, which puzzles Vim, and which he parses using lyrics from the like of Jim Morrison, Fugazi and Nirvana. Charles, in this debut, gives Vim an unevenly self-aware first person, making large portions of the book read like a vague, angry diary; they're dull, but come through as convincingly natural and make moments of connection (as with a bandmate's girlfriend) take on a special glow. (June 16)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Vim Sweeney takes his place in the long list of fictional characters is search of themselves. His journey centers on Kalamazoo, MI, in the summer of 1992, after his high school graduation. He works as a dishwasher, plays in a band, lusts after his best friend's girl, and tries to figure out his relationships with those around him, including his father and stepfather. The novel was written shortly after 9/11, although the existential questions it asks are more those of teen lit than of apocalyptic fiction. Told in Vim's voice, the chapters are short and choppy, although first-time author Charles is very good at capturing the way teenagers speak to one another. The dialogue is filled with bravado and expletives, which the characters use to mask their insecurities and uncertainty about their future, and even, perhaps more so, their present.–Nancy Brown, Fox Lane High School, Bedford, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060882980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060882983
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,956,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on June 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
It's a strange read with an audacious collage method during which a pretty ordinary coming of age novel gets derailed every page or so by a hjolt of flash-fiction prose poem barrage of Bob Mould-Rimbaud-Wallace Stevens-Bob Dylan "Tarantula" poetry, so your Bud Lite is getting spiked with shots of absinthe. I liked it a lot and I'll bet, after the shock, you will too. It's not that you haven't read this tale a million times before. Two teens, Vim and Wheeler, play in a band called the Judy Lumpers and find their friendship tested when Vim falls for his best friend's girlfriend, the world-weary and mysterious Helene, whose Bible is Burroughs' novel NAKED LUNCH. The torment of loving a girl who "belongs to" another drives Vim deeper into an alcohol and drug fugue state which, in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1992, seems to be the status quo for all the newly graduated seniors, except perhaps for Vim's bete noire, the hyped up ballplayer whose future is so obviously bright that Vim can't stand to contemplate it, Derek Jeter.

Bryan Charles is wildly ambitious, but has he the mojo to pull off everything he's trying to accomplish? Different readers will have different answers. I liked his combination of John Hughes meets David Lynch. Reading it is like taking a wild, delightful and sometimes dusturbing trip through a teenage wasteland of narcissism and real vision, but at the same time I did feel that Charles is pandering to a certain fantasy element by having the mopey Vim so unexpectedly successful with women of every stripe, like a movie hero. One maybe. But multiple sex partners, not this guy. Maybe in Michigan however, so add a star if you're from the area.
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Format: Paperback
Bryan Charles is what I call a Charmer: he wraps you around his finger and then has his literary way with you.

Do you look up after reading his entire book in one sitting and feel disoriented and bemused and a little sad that the story you were just a few short moments ago immersed in has now disappeared back into the ether? Yes. Is that a bad thing? C'mon, that's the bittersweet moment every reader lives for!

The bottom line is Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way is an outstanding, more than just a little magical book and sure to please anyone who appreciates such things. I hope that includes you.
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Vim Sweeney is 18, fresh out of high school, plays in a band, and is dying to get laid. Thus far the generic.

From here Bryan Charles's novel takes a sharp and blessed turn away from the generic, avoiding the predictably deadened, Prozac-muted tone affected by many younger writers who appear scared to admit to caring about anything.

Charles takes you for an enjoyable, nicely paced roller-coaster ride through Vim's consciousness, awash in longings and confusion. The adolescent voice is authentic. Vim is intense as only 18-year-olds can be, yet the inflated adolescent sense of self and the occasional vituperative outbursts are perfectly interleaved with keen-eyed observation of the caperings of himself and his fellow mortals. No one is immune, not even the object of his lust, his bandmate's girlfriend - a girl whose arms are scarred from repeated self-mutilation. Vim's wry awareness of the human comedy makes for a terrific read. Robertson Davies would be proud.

As in many first novels, there is at times a sense of long-held fantasies getting fulfilled, but it can also be deeply affecting, particularly near the novel's end, when Vim at last finishes a letter (one presumes, never sent) to his absent dad. The wry comic tone gives way,and we find ourselves in the emotional heart of the book.

The novel feels genuine, not the product of some formulaic writing workshop, and as such I warmly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
You can get as mad about it as you want to, but this schizophrenic generation needs a pop writer the way Charles does it, someone who loves the stuff he hears and wants to mix with it, not just watch it sullenly with his mouth open, or plot some matchbox future adjacent to it. Like going to a really good concert with a friend's memories next to your own. Buy it.
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Alright. I read this book when it first came to my public library about five or six years ago, and when I read it, it changed my life. I was an impressionable teenager. The only thing was, when I went back to re-read it, I remembered the title wrong and wasn't able to find it ever again because I never thought to write down the name of the author or the title of the book.

I was devastated by the fact that I could never find it again after that first time reading it. It changed my life and the way I read books and the way I wrote. There were scenes it it that I could to relate to much the same way I could relate to Catcher in the Rye or Perks of Being a Wallflower. The characters were real and reminded me of my friends. I cried a lot while reading it but I laughed more.

Some people might not think it's appropriate, but the thing is, it's realistic in the way it portrays people who are just out of high school, and to be honest, if you're trying to police what someone's reading, you're probably doing things wrong. There's a lot of vulgar parts of the novel, and I guess you should be aware of that, but in all honesty, I was hearing way worse things at school when I picked up the book.

I'm glad I finally found it again, though, after years of searching. Sometimes a book will really make your heart ache, and this, for me, was one of them.
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