Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How Evan Broke His Head

How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets
by Garth Stein
$10.20 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 978-1-56947-498-3
The author has been in the media lately for his new bestseller, The Art of Racing In the Rain. Personally, I don't care for books about dogs, so I decided to review his previous novel instead.
The hero of our story is Evan, a thirty-one year rock star who had a hit single ten years ago and very little success since then. He lives alone in a small apartment and works part time in a guitar store to make ends meet. Additionally, he's an epileptic.
As a result of his disability, and because he's less financially successful than his brother and parents, his family tends to treat him as if he's damaged goods. Almost like he's retarded.
When Evan was in high school, he had a relationship with a young woman named Tracy. She became pregnant at seventeen, and told Evan that she was getting an abortion before disappearing from his life. Our story begins fourteen years later at Tracy's funeral. Evan pays his respects, when he discovers that Tracy didn't have that abortion after all. She had a son, Dean, now fourteen years old and missing his mother.
Evan is not really set up for a kid, and doesn't know the first thing about his son whom he's never met. At first the plan is for the two of them to spend a little 
time together before Evan returns to his bachelor pad and Dean to his grandparents. Of course, it doesn't play out that way. Dean's grandfather has a fondness for smacking the kid around, and Evan can't in good conscience return his son to an environment like that, although he's uncertain about how to handle it himself.
Dean is a likable boy, but after the untimely death of his mother he's obviously got some serious issues. The father he's never met feels ill-equipped to raise any kid, much less one with so many problems. Dean doesn't want to live with the man whom he feels has abandoned him and his mom, but neither does he want to return to his abusive grandfather.
A lot of the twists in the plot are derived from the characters' dishonesty; specifically, the lies they tell one another "for their own good". Tracy doesn't tell Evan he has a son, nor does she tell Dean who his father is. Evan's family lies to him to protect him, and naturally, everyone lies to the kid.
In spite of their faults, the entire cast is easy to relate to. Evan has a girlfriend who seems like a dream come true for a single man who suddenly becomes a parent, but their relationship is nuanced because neither of them wants things moving too fast. Offering Dean a ready-made, replacement mom is not what he needs right now.
Everyone who comes from a dysfunctional family will find this book  touching, and an exhilarating summer read with a surprise ending. Quiet and unassuming, How Evan Broke His Head is a diamond in the rough.

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