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March 10, 2009 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | March 10, 2009 |

I’m lucky that I have talented friends. Often, I’m asked to check out their plays, or their band gigs, or their student films. And they’re usually the best one on stage, the better of the three bands performing that night, or the best film in the circuit. Most of my friends are talented, and I don’t know if that’s tempered by how much I dig them personally, but I get lucky that way. I offered to read an early draft of Dustin’s book for the Cannonball Read, worried that I would be obligated to write a truthful and bitchy scathe on yet another sob story of growing up geeky.

The memoir is a tricky thing. Usually, there are only two reasons to write one. The first is someone who’s done something epic, like discovered a cure for something, changed government policy, or even the minor cycle of celebrities who are telling the minutae of their basic upbringing that got them where they are. The second type is usually someone who has suffered some sort of terrible personal experience and lived to tell about it. Your rehab horror stories, former prostitutes, molestees, cancer survivors. These usually end up as Lifetime movies of the week, or terrible Oscar bait biopics.

Dustin’s memoir is nothing like either. It’s a charming coming of age story about growing up a band geek in Arkansas. It’s almost Hughesian in its charm, shot through with the snark, pop culture references, and off-beat humor we’ve come to appreciate in his reviews. It was startling, in that Dustin manages to tread the fine line between pathos and broad comedy without ever being needlessly crude or overtly melodramatic. There’s some mighty dark waters, but the bio never gets bogged down in the dreadful parts. It’s hilarious and heartwarming, touching on a lonely high school trumpet player and his first experiences with the ladies. It does get a touch ribald at times, but that’s what we love about our boy Rowles.

Dustin’s story is pretty brutal: a single parent home in less than stellar conditions. His brother is a dropout, suffering a severe drug addiction. His father works two jobs, barely finding time to take care of the kids. He’s sort of a social outcast, working his way up to semi-popularity through the cliques and rankings of the bandos. But, what makes the story effective is a combination of stylish narrative and a charismatic cast of characters. Dustin’s father is pretty amazing, and when this is made into a movie — because the story practically begs to join and possibly decimate the ranks of I Love You, Beth Cooper or Sixteen Candles — the actor who plays him is all but guaranteed an Oscar nomination.

My only complaint is that we’re sort of a privileged audience, so we’re privy to a lot of the facts beforehand. We know about Dustin’s father’s secret, as well as what ultimately comes of his younger brother. We know there’s a happy-ever-after that involves law school and a lovely wife and adorable baby outside of Arkansas. We know that he escapes Arkansas. We’re predisposed to like Dustin, because…well, we like Dustin. But this is mostly because his story is our story. Granted, we didn’t quite suffer the Povichian slings and arrows that Dustin did, but most of us didn’t pop out of the womb smooth with the opposite sex. (Yes, by all means, take this opportunity to needless flaut what champions of the bed you were and how much drugs and sex and love you were because that’s absolutely what I’m hoping you’ll do, you cretinously self-asorbed fucktards.) What I enjoy about the story — and what will hopefully translate to the final store copy — is that despite the negative events of the story, it’s ultimately a story of happiness. It’s not “high school was the worst time of my life,” nor is it a “prom is the time for us to shine — let’s beat STATE!” but more of a “shit happened, and I fucking survived, good times and bad.”

Like Chez’s memoir, I heaved a sigh of relief that it was an enjoyable read (despite a questionable title). Once more, I lucked out with a talented friend’s work. The only question it begs is: Is this memoir necessary? Dustin’s bobbling merrily through his 30s, he’s hopefully got much more life to live. How much story does he possibly have to tell? Do we really need a book devoted to someone’s high school experiences? But that’s why I like it: Not every survival story has to have life or death consequences.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | March 10, 2009 |

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