The eye-catching cover of Joe Meno’s 2004 novel, Hairstyles of the Damned puts together one of my favorite color combinations: hot pink and jungle green. This read was a serendipitous find, calling my name from the ‘new arrivals’ shelf at the library. Put out by Punk Planet Books, an imprint of Akashic Books, Hairstyles is the kind of indie fiction that could never be published by the mainstream houses.
Between the colorful covers lies the coming-of-age story of Brian Oswald and the assorted punks, skinheads and DnD geeks who cross his path as he veers wildly from one teenage boy activity to the next: chasing tail, trying to get a job, getting high, and making mix-tapes. Brian has trouble getting any of these things quite right, but that’s what being a teenager is all about, right? Meno paints his characters in vivid detail and documents their emotional states through the telling art of mix-tape assembly, mostly heavy metal and punk rock tunes the target reader is likely to be very familiar with.
Brian’s best friend is Gretchen, she of the hot pink hair on the cover, and he has a huge crush on her, even though she has a less than desirable figure, swears like a sailor, and loves to beat people up. Their unlikely friendship is destined for disaster, and as Brian struggles to replace Gretchen’s unique presence in his life, he moves through different strata of the underage party scene in Chicago’s south side, never quite finding his niche. Meno’s authentic language (not intended for the prim and proper) and style changes between what Brian is thinking, remembering, writing, and listening to keeps things very interesting.
Whoever wrote the blurb on the back of the paperback said it best: “Joe Meno’s pitch-perfect prose illuminates the tumultuous realities of American adolescence, the disintegration of the modern family, and the way a mix-tape can change a person’s life.” Not for the faint of heart. Highly recommended.
Meno’s newest novel, The Great Perhaps, is due out in May 2009 and I’ll be looking for it.