Friday, April 4, 2014

Infuriatingly Funny: Trailer Trash With A Girl's Name

   Dr. Elizabeth Curry, simultaneously my tormentor and hero, graded my work according to her set of rules written in stone, indelible laws each of her students eventually learned to follow. Getting that coveted A+ was a minor detail. We wanted her respect, and believe you me, that did not come easy.
   The gaunt, lanky, snowy top, lady in the long monochromatic dresses and knee-high leather boots often reduced would-be-writers to shameful tears as she tore sub par essays and dumped them in her waste basket. I was victimized early on, we all were. Only half of the initial eighteen students finished her course but when we left, we attained an appreciation for voice, style, originality, and knowing how to compose words to show rather than tell.

   I would have loved to have her read Stacey Roberts' debut novel Trailer Trash With A Girl's Name, just to watch her shake her head or roll her eyes at Roberts' unorthodox dialogue format. She would've undoubtedly screamed redundancy at the character's labels, and she might have even given in to her harsh, hypercritical nature that drove her to tear up pages written in the blood and tears of the author, but I have no doubt whatsoever that my old nemesis would have laughed her butt clean off.

   Trailer Trash is written in a way that goes against a large part of my own training as a novelist. Despite the two voices in empty space sensation, the dialogue carries the scenes and mounts images that often called my own childhood memories into play. At times it was difficult to know whether the Ssssstace in the scene was a teen, a child or a grown man, but it didn't matter. Imagining the main characters at any age in any of those scenes is comical in itself.

   I did not have a Jewish mother who turned food into sorrow or the tears of an inmate in his first night of prison at lights out. My mom did not melt my corneas (and everyone else's) with onion chopping, and the times that she'd ask "What's wrong with you?" I'm sure I actually did something that warranted it, like jumping off a roof onto a serial killer's discarded mattresses.

   I despised the Mom character (whose image in my head is that of Theresa the Long Island Medium for some reason though with red hair). Hated everything she put this boy through, especially with her idea of what a good boy Layne the Favorite was. Had I left my sister behind with a concussion, I'd be unable to sit to this day, and don't get me started on her inability to retain names or the tonsillitis'll just have to read it. 

   If Ssssstacey would've turned into a bitter adult, he'd be well justified but instead, every page of Trailer Trash holds little resentment. In fact, just when I thought I had it and I swore I would push Mom into a fire, she redeemed herself if only for a moment.

   Typically, I resist funny. I do. As soon as a friend recommends a book, a show or a movie she deemed funny, I know I won't even smirk at it. My best friend adores Will Farrel. To this day I wonder why. I have not found the man funny, not once. Close friends of mine in PA talked up The Birdcage, Saturday Night Live, and Chelsea Handler but to me? Yawn...

   I feared reading Trailer Trash would be similar, that I would find nothing funny, and despite the many readers that swear they fell off chairs and their sides hurt so badly from laughing so much, it wouldn't even elicit a chuckle from me.

   I'm happy to report that wasn't the case. 

   The witty lines Stacey fired back at Marvin King of the Jews or Ted the Lightbulb Salesman, sure found my tickle spot and I laughed not only because it was indeed humorous, I laughed in celebration of the strong spirit of this kid, who teaches his buddy to appreciate a normal sandwich.

   Comedy suits Stacey Roberts' voice. All comedians draw their material from their own lives and those around them, along with that unique sense of self-deprecating humor that goes on to make them beloved characters and storytellers.

   Through all the humor, the unusual format, the sheer tragedy of growing up with the Mom person and her arsenic-infected logic, Roberts' reveals what Dr. Curry, my benevolent tormentor, would've lauded as the elusive "IT" she made her students strive for.

   "...the three of them stood together in the kitchen in a tight cluster, a coven formed around my lamentable incompetence and lack of foresight, awaiting one last unspeakable ingredient for their noxious cauldron..."

   Dr. Curry could've taught an entire week's worth of lessons based on that passage.

   Trailer Trash is a fun, quick read, and I would recommend it to anyone who was ever a fan of memoirs like A Christmas Story and The Wonder Years, where the narrative only adds emotional spice to the characters' perspective as their dialogue carries the story. 

   Download it, get the paperback, you will undoubtedly enjoy it. In my life I hold onto the notion that no matter how dark and hopeless one day may be, there will be another day when you'll think back on those moments and tell your story with a disbelieving chuckle. It's a testament to our own fortitude. We love to laugh, especially at our own tragic moments that eventually shaped us, and Stacey Roberts clearly knows it.

   Javier A. Robayo

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  1. Javier - thank you for this. I am always floored when writers of immense talent appreciate my writing. I have read the Gaze and My Two Flags with admiration and respect. I'm glad my first book made this page, and left a positive impression.

    1. You deserve nothing less. I know what it takes to grab your own life and throw it on the page. I give you all the credit in the world and wish you every success as an author.