Book Review: Boy In The Air
2.13.61 Publications is an up-and-coming publishing company from Los Angeles. With current titles from Henry Rollins as well as the American publication of Nick Cave’s King Ink, 2.13.61 adds Don Bajema to their list of available authors.
Bajema’s name may already be familiar to you from his spoken word work on Our Fathers Who Aren’t In Heaven, (along with Rollins and Lydia Lunch). But his published writings add another dimension to his creative exploration and give a very stark and unabashed look at changing American culture.
Boy In The Air chronicles the maturing of an American society as juxtaposed with the transformation from adolescence to “adult” of his characters in his short stories. The disillusionment of America as a whole, as it moves from World War II through the Korean War and into the Vietnam War era, is reflected in Bajema’s characters own development and refusal to glorify war and a society that feeds on death and destruction. The acceptance that typifies the earlier men who go to war, with a country to back them, is rejected, along with the mores and ideologies of a culture that sends its sons off to fight these wars. Naivety is cast off for anger and experimentation and overall rejection of God, the “American way of life.” and all the dogmas attached with such a way of living.
One of the recurring characters in Bajema’s stories, Eddie, shows the greatest metamorphoses; from a wide eyed adolescent, to a drug-crazed young man on the run from the police. Eddie’s value system is put to the test as he has an affair with his best friend’s mother, deals with a shell-shocked father and goes on to be a drug-runner and draft dodger, even a murderer. Bajema challenges traditional values and puts them in a new light for his readers. He doesn’t pass judgment on them but leaves evaluation for the reader. his job as author seems to be a guide, a giver of information, not a moralist or preacher.
The content of Bajema’s stories is frank and often graphic. Blood, decapitation, abuse of spouses and children. Alcoholism and death are as integral a part of his world as love and sex and Sunday picnics. Good plays off evil and the two are seen as parts of a whole, irrevocably intertwined and ultimately, equally necessary.
While the ton of Bajema’s stories is dark, he sends hope and strength out through his characters to the reader. Upon finishing Boy In The Air, I felt despair and something akin to futility, but these feelings were balanced by a sense of triumph and the human will to survive and to move forward, whether blindly or with renewed insight. Bajema’s stories stand as a tribute to the darker side of human nature and the ability to reconcile this with reality and one’s surroundings.
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