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Paradise Squandered Paperback – September 9, 2012
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About the Author
Alex Stefansson was born in 1984 in Seattle, Washington. He grew up in the suburbs and later attended Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, where he accumulated a large amount of debt and also met his wife. He enjoys witnessing wardrobe malfunctions, eating hot dogs, and spending quality time with his wife, two young sons, and neurotic cat.
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For example, rather than describing life’s true chronology—a random series of disconnected events—novels suffuse everyday activities with unified purpose and meaning. Instead of depicting the typical life journey—plodding, stagnant, and aimless—a book’s characters actually change and grow, transformed by their experiences. Rather than revealing the true nature of omens and symbols—inconsequential figments of an overactive imagination—novels present them as portentous foreshadowings of great import.
A good novel, in other words, presents life, enhanced.
But what if a novel portrayed life unadorned, stripped of attempts to impose meaning and structure on an existence devoid of the same? The outcome would be not unlike Alex Stefansson’s “Paradise Squandered, ” a book uncomfortably akin to life itself. In “Paradise,” Stefansson lays bare the bleak, meaningless lives of flat, affectless characters engaged in pretty much nothing at all.
Stefansson’s late-teen protagonist, Andrew, wanders aimlessly through his post-high school days. Bored, disengaged, and listless, he boozes liberally, opines cynically, and whines frequently. Nothing captures his imagination or generates sufficient enthusiasm to compel him to actually do anything to change his life trajectory.
Stefansson eschews established literary techniques. Early in the book, when a woman in an eerie white gown glides across a dark and deserted seashore, the reader quickly picks up on the symbolism, expecting a reappearance, explanation, or resolution later in the book. There is none. It’s just a stranger walking the beach at night.
Later, when ominous sounds from the underbrush send a chill down the protagonist’s spine, the reader immediately senses a foreshadowing, anticipating an upcoming calamity. There is none. It’s just a cat in the bushes.
Similarly, while most authors attempt to invest readers in their characters, inspiring either love or hate, Stefansson makes no such effort. Readers will struggle to develop any feelings at all for Andrew as he plods through his lackadaisical life. Through 144-plus pages of this 145-page novel, Andrew is Andrew, same as he ever was. Only in the last 50 words of the book does one get the glimmer of a notion that Andrew might actually take some action, exert some control over his life, and change things for the better.
One might question whether chutzpah or inexperience led Stefansson to produce a novel bereft of both plot and character development. My money’s on the former, as Stefansson is clearly a writer of talent. His descriptive abilities put the reader smack in the middle of a scene in a fashion not unlike the immersive experience of an IMAX movie. Had he so chosen, he undoubtedly could have brought these same skills to bear in making Andrew and others in his book into three-dimensional characters.
I give high marks to Stefansson for his decision to defy literary convention and present an unembellished view of our mundane existence. On the other hand, his choice does not make for a particularly interesting or readable novel. I, like many readers, want to be enlightened or entertained by a book. If I wanted to experience boredom and disaffection, I could just live my own life. I don’t need a book to take me there.
Adding to the difficulty is the often lamented immaturity that is in juxtaposition from his sarcastic and often spot on depictions of people and events that surround him. While coming of age stories are usually angst filled and stereotypical: Stefansson's skill with the written word provides a sense of a real teenager as they navigate the world between childhood and adulthood. I won't make comparisons to other writers, as many have: for I think that this author managed to set his own path, with a book that is eminently readable and worth every second.
What you won't get is a happy ending with roses and bunnies: but you will see his growth and be left with a story that gives you some insight, and plenty of food for thought.
I received an eBook from the author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Andrew Banks for me is very mono-tone, very black and white, VERY blunt. I wondered about his mental health on more then one occasion! Over all I really liked his story, his growth, and his self discovery. Such an honest piece of writing about the journey of coming of age.
I felt the author was able to get right inside the head of this teenage boy, and just spew truth. It's was so REAL. So incredibly RAW. And I loved it!
Paradise squandered is unlike anything I have EVER read before. I really believed that the vast majority of people, will in fact be able To relate to this novel. It covers such a broad genera.
'It's just what I do. Worry. Panic. Self-distrust.'
It covers all the usually teenage problem, drugs, underage drinking, sex and sexual frustration, reckless driving, social Statius etc, but it is so much deeper.
I wasn't a fan of the self distractive Andrew at the start of this novel, however as the story progressed you learn why he is like he is. And I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone that loved 'Catcher in the Rye' as this, I feel is the closest comparison I can give.
Thank you Alex for a wonderful journey from teen to adult. A solid 4 star read.
This book at first confused me, I felt like I had walked into the middle of a conversation. I actually stopped and restarted. Then with a slap on my forehead, I realized why. The author's unique perspective into the main characters life allows you to feel like you are 'in' the main characters head, thus my confusion. Imagine spending longer than 5 minutes in the head of an intoxicated teenage boy and you will understand.
This voice gives the book a great quality of depth and feeling. It allows you to truly understand the reality of the growth of this character. It is well written and worth taking the time to read.