WARNING: This review contains certain plot points which could be construed as spoilers!
I recently received an advance copy of the short story BoyzNite for review. The title suggests a night of boyish revels, something frivolous, an expectation further supported by the comic-style font on the cover and the non-standard spelling of the title. In this, I was proved to be quite wrong – ironically so, as the story takes a hard stance against judging a book from its cover.
The author is Xane Fisher – a young but well-travelled man from Salt Lake City. The story is loosely based on the coming-of-age genre, though in this incarnation the journey of self-realisation is condensed into one night.
Mr Fisher’s style is aggressive and to the point. His metaphors are punchy; reading his story, I felt myself slowly tenderised by the battery of his language, by the coarseness of the night he recounts, and by the unapologetic nature with which he recounts it.
I freely admit, the assault was quite enjoyable.
Our protagonist is Ian Peters, a gifted young lawyer from a small town on whom great expectations have been placed. Peters, however, seems more concerned with remaining down-to-earth: he wants to hang out with old friends in his old town, and he wants to be free of the “political dick measuring” of his law school.
Despite his surface world-weariness, he actually turns out to be quite naïve – fitting for his age. I can certainly relate to Peters’ wish to kick back and have consequence-free fun like in the old days. How many of us have felt disgust at the personal and professional one-up-man-ship of the world in general? And how many of us have gone home and tried – unsuccessfully – to relive old memories?
The other characters, unfortunately, fall victim to the short story format. Each one was credible, well-described – and forgettable. There just wasn’t enough time to include the scale of characterisation required to build rapport with each one. Peters’ brother, Devin, gets a lot of page-space, but mostly serves as a foil for the protagonist. The friends at the party are strong characters, but I don’t feel any connection to them. We must wait until the end of the story to meet another relatable character: Peters’ old sweetheart, Kristen, who is now a dancer and sometime prostitute.
Mr Fisher clearly believes, as do I, that even at a relatively young age, people’s experiences of life can be so vastly different that it is a mistake to judge anyone by your own standards, and that most people are simply trying to do their best with what they have. BoyzNite presents two opposing viewpoints: in the first, we are animals, our pleasures base and immediate; in the second and more human viewpoint, people are shown to be products of their circumstances.
On his nocturnal journey of self-discovery, Peters personally experiences both viewpoints: first, he watches a stripper and becomes disgusted after he has “seen everything”. Just moments later, he becomes disgusted at himself after speaking to Kristen and realising that she doesn’t particularly like who she is or the things she does to make ends meet.
Though the writing is slowed by an over-reliance on the present participle, on the whole it is an entertaining read, and certainly food for thought. I liked the style, the visceral descriptions, the way Mr Fisher places the reader in the environment he creates. His vivid yet disjointed descriptions of the drunken revelries at the party are excellent.
Although I agree with Mr Fisher on the perils of prejudice and the relative unfairness of life, given his travelling credentials, I had hoped to confront a viewpoint I hadn’t previously encountered, something designed to open me up to new ways of thinking. The prostitute with a sympathetic back story is a good vehicle, but it is a vehicle that has been used before. The main lesson – that empathy is better than condemnation – seems to be self-evident. To me this doesn’t represent a new angle on prejudice. In fact, this idea of prejudice, identity, and hasty conclusions is older than Beth Gelert.
The story ends at a point which is more convenient than complete. I feel like there’s more to discover: Peters is on the upswing of some self-realisation; I don’t know how he will act with his friends and his brother, who don’t seem to be on the same philosophical plane as him. I want more of this, I want a conclusion. Perhaps this is part of the author’s message; that there is no conclusion to self-discovery.
To summarise: BoyzNite is a concise but in-your-face examination of prejudice and social status, a ‘fight for authenticity’ that traverses social boundaries: from the lowest layer, forced by circumstance to stay there, through the middle layer, who choose debauchery over self-improvement, to the protagonist’s gifted, rosy-futured top layer (if BoyzNite is anything to go by, it is only here one can afford morals). If you are looking for a quick read that nevertheless has a clear message on modern morality, BoyzNite is for you. It would make a great discussion topic for class, or at home with older children.
I am looking forward to reading more from Mr Fisher. His punchy style and lively descriptions make reading a pleasure.
Xane Fisher’s website is http://www.PoetryForPeopleIHate.com