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Grab on to Me Tightly as If I Knew the Way    by Bryan Charles order for
Grab on to Me Tightly as If I Knew the Way
by Bryan Charles
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2006 (2006)

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*   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Vincent Joseph Sweeney faces high school graduation with an 'uncertain future'. Vim (as he is called because he couldn't pronounce Vince when he was a toddler) finds the year 1992 a lot to deal with, and attempts to put off adulthood for as long as he can. Vim's biological dad left some years ago, and seeks to become involved in his son's life again - much to Vim's puzzled dismay. Stepdad Ed has been good to Vim and his mother, is a hard working electrician, and eventually Vim does look at him as having been there for him as a dad. Ed answers Vim's query on aging: 'Summer don't mean shit after elementary school. It's like your birthday. Get to be my age, Vim, it's just another day.' Vim's response, 'See now that's what I'm talking about. I don't want that.'

This is what I decipher from Bryan Charles's creation: the storyteller Vim graduates from high school. With friends Wheeler and Jake, Vim is a member of a garage band known as the Judy Lumpers. He is also a dishwasher (for a period of time) at the Gull Lake Café. The music band plays a gig every so often. Vim is involved with guitars and girls, and learns that 'Things don't last forever - he's holding on'. He takes a strong liking to Wheeler's all of a sudden girlfriend Helene, but it's a very testy situation. All the cast consume (underage) alcohol. Vim and friends have a 'colorful vulgar' clipped language, there's a party at which the police make an appearance, and a young woman named Trudy ushers Vim out of the building. She beds him, and later announces that she has a venereal disease. By this time, Vim has had sexual encounters with others.

Amid the vulgarity, Charles injects beautiful descriptions of scenery like 'Schizophrenic horizon. Fat black clouds touching a world so bright it looks on fire. A sudden shift in the atmosphere, the heat sucked out as if through a straw. ... The air tastes like a screen. Low rumble of distant thunder. The cloud's shift and mutate and fly across the sky. A flicker of lightning ... The thunder so close now it's like semis crashing on the roof ... the wind batters the house from every direction as the storm falls through itself.'

It is an enticing title, but I found reading Grab on to Me Tightly as If I Knew the Way like watching a flick show, i.e. slides going by on the screen at a rapid pace. Chapters range from one sentence to three pages, with some thoughts all in one long paragraph. However, the writing is lyrical in the last chapters, particularly in Vim's 18th birthday celebration with family and a phone conversation with his father.

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