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Posted September 7, 2010
TOM SAWYER IN HELL places Peter Black on the scene of new writers to watch. Research into his background fails to reveal any other published works, so this must be a debut novel and as such it deserves a different sort of attention. Some reviewers are calling this novel hilarious as though it were an au courant story related to the plethora of potty mouth guy movies that fill the movie theaters. Some are calling it a modern day 'Catcher in the Rye', referring to the fact that in many ways it could be placed in the genre of coming of age novels. For this reader it is neither. Not knowing the author's background, the book can only be judged on its own merits, and as such it seems to be not a shallow batch of tales of an off center young man, but rather an astute observation of how the progeny of the Baby Boomers are finding their way through the messy, confusing, contradictory world we gave them. Yes, there are some moments of comedy (every good serious evaluation of the times needs the emotional relief recognized by writers all the way back to the Greek playwrights), but there is much more here than the outline of the book suggests. Peter Black states his vision of this book as follows: 'All life is a series of stories and Tom Sawyer in Hell is mine. The narrative follows the misadventures of a naive young man who has optimistic expectations about life that rapidly go south as he makes his way through three colleges on two coasts, courts and jails and small town lawyers, strip clubs, a gig as a Park Avenue doorman, hopelessness, psychopharmacology, absurdity, and the struggle to land a corporate job.' That is enough of a description of the content of the story. Interesting and more subtle portions of this novel begin with the selection of the name 'Tom Sawyer' for the narrator: some psychologists now perceive Mark Twain's character as a lad with 'inappropriate behavior', or even ' symptoms of 'oppositional defiant disorder' and 'attention deficit hyperactivity disorder', with the addition of poor decisions and demonstrating an inability to take responsibility for his actions, deliberately ignoring rules and demonstrates defiance toward adults. It is not known whether Peter Black views his namesake from this vantage, but reading the manner in which he makes choices and decisions and acts out his frustrations with the society that expects him to chameleonize suggests that this darker side of Tom Sawyer is what produces the latter half of the title of his book 'in Hell'. At the end of this lad's disillusioned road or book he shares 'Nobody wants to help you unless there is something in it for them. It seems like a culture devoid of generosity. There's lot of advice, but the meter is always running. You get half-truths, snippets of wisdom, and a big deal made out of giving you nothing.' If this description of the book sounds the opposite of hilarious, then it is just another reader's version. Peter Black is a far better writer than many are describing him. He has the gift to create unforgettable characters, people that live in the subconscious long after there usefulness in the storyline ends. Tom Sawyer, if indeed he falls into the maladaptive character perceived here, is a red flag of our times. Have we produced 'replacements' unable to adjust to the chaotic society we have created and have we prevented them from achieving the world as Candide visualized it?
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Posted September 15, 2010
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