You Can Say You Knew Me Whenby K.M. Soehnlein
Charming underachiever Jamie Garner is living a sexy slacker's life in San Francisco during the dot-com boom--avoiding his stalled career as a radio producer, barely holding on to his relationship, but surrounded by fun-loving friends. And then Jamie gets the call he's always dreaded: Teddy, the father who never accepted him, has died. It's time for the prodigal son to come home to the subdivisions and strip malls of suburban New Jersey to face the emotionally barren family he left behind years ago.
Caught between the guilt he wants to shake and the grief he can't express, Jamie takes solace in a box of memorabilia he finds in the attic, marked "1960," the year his father spent in San Francisco but kept secret. Jamie is especially drawn to a moody, enigmatic photo of the stunning Dean Foster, his dad's closest friend, who headed west then mysteriously disappeared.
Determined to unlock the mystery of his father, Jamie seeks out the artists and poets, the free spirits and wild men mentioned in Teddy's letters to Dean. It's a journey that takes him deep into the subcultures of San Francisco, from the bohemian heyday of the Beat Generation through the Internet mania of his contemporary world, even as it unleashes something primal, hungry, and slightly dangerous in Jamie. As his search for the elusive Dean Foster turns ever more obsessive, undermining his friendships, his income, and his fidelity to his partner, Jamie is forced to decide what he is willing to risk in the pursuit of the truth.
"Engaging . . . the flow and intensity of the writing make it difficult to put Soehnlein's book down . . . With remarkably stylish and witty prose, Soehnlein keeps the reading convincing and compelling, displaying a knack for giving just enough detail to put the reader right in the scene."--The San Francisco Chronicle
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I have to admit I found this to be a page turner, but did I enjoy this story? No. I find it hard to relate to losers - and the main protagonaist in this story is just that. A sorry individual who at the ripe age of thirty plus cannot get through a day without illicit sex - even though he has a partner who loves him - smoking illegal substances, borrowing money then squandering it on booze and drugs, not showering for days on end - ugh! Then we're supposed to care if his homophobic father was gay or not - all this to echoes of Kerouac's On the Road. Pretentious and fascinating.
K.M. Soehnlein's dazzling debut 'The World of Normal Boys' destroyed me. I couldn't pick up another book for weeks afterwards because nothing else was good enough. I've waited a long time for his follow-up novel, and it was worth the wait! 'You Can Say...' is just as dazzling -- maybe even more so, because the main character of this book is so much more complicated and elusive than the adorably precocious main character of 'Normal Boys.' But he's just as fascinating, maybe even more so, because he is such a hapless, emotional mess trying to make some sense out of a world that no longer offers any guideposts. I read the book in 3 days, couldn't put it down. The setting is San Francisco during the dot-com boom, and boy, does Soehnlein deliver on the details. I'm not gay or male, but I recognized myself and most of my friends in Jamie Garner and his circle of compatriots, and loved every delicious paragraph of it. The plot follows Jamie, a scraping-along-by-his-fingernails freelance radio producer who launches a quest to discover what happened during one mysterious year of his father's life, when he also lived in San Francisco, during the city's beatnik craze. The book shuttles back and forth between the 1960's and the 1990's, and Soehnlein captures both with such clarity and cleverness, you really feel you've lived right in the middle of it. Solving the mystery of his father becomes an obsession, and leads Jamie to some truly surprising places. Meanwhile, dot-com forces change his beloved Mission neighborhood from grungy to glamorous, artists start fleeing to the hills (well, Oakland), and his closest relationships suffer some economic shifts as well. Funny, tender, droll and insightful, this book, like 'Normal Boys' is a savvy treatise on what it means to grow up -- especially after you've already been an adult for sometime.