You want to hook a reader? Especially, this reader? Start your book off with a blowjob. Lavinia Ludlow doesn't pull any punches in her debut novel, alt.punk, and beginning her book with the mouth of her narrator full of dick sets the tone.
In the same way the journey the book will take the reader on isn't traditional, the blowjob isn't either. Instead of a typical hot, sex scene, it's one filled with a disgust and disdain for the person the narrator, Hazel, is servicing. "I know something's definitely off when I think about how I'd rather suck on barbed wire than my own boyfriend," she says. The boyfriend—the receiver—is Kree, a jobless, pubic hair shedding loser who has been a safe place for Hazel's copacetic-ness with life for the past ten years.
Hazel, 29, is an intense germaphobe and hypochondriac; she scrubs her walls and skin with bleach, and can't relax in any environment she fears may be fraught with germs, which, to Hazel, is pretty much every environment. When she's not being disgusted over the multitude of auburn pubic hairs left scattered by the unmotivated Kree or doing the job she can't stand—working as a manager at a local Safeway—she spends the rest of her time trying to distance herself from her upper middle-class family whose goal seems to be to constantly torment her about her appearance, weight, job, or boyfriend. "'Do you want a gift certificate to a salon for Christmas?' Auntie asks. 'Even ugly people can get help with a makeover.'"
Ludlow finally has Hazel break up with Kree when the central character's disgust and resentment come to a head and he moves out. Shortly thereafter, she finds herself caught up in the train wreck that is Otis—a dysfunctional, singer, sideshow of a man who she meets after his punk band, Riot Venom, performs one night at a trendy, downtown club. She hooks up with him and begins a life on the road with Otis and his band mates which is, believe it or not, not the most idyllic environment for working on the book she's attempting to get published. From this point on, Hazel's life begins the same trajectory as Otis's—a sweaty, downward spiral of bodily fluids, prescription drugs, and emergency rooms. We are along for the ride Ludlow ably creates, like it or not.
I enjoyed this journey of a woman who, despite her need for control, leaves it all behind for a lifestyle, albeit temporary, that is the complete opposite of where she thought she'd ever be and what everyone expected/wanted her to be. We've always fantasized about leaving our responsibilities behind to go off with someone we love, but most of us never had the balls to act on it. Hazel does this in spades, trading her modest apartment and stable job for a life on a bus filled with addicts and where showering, due to lack of facilities, becomes secondary. Ludlow allows us readers to take this journey with her character, from a safe, chicken-shit distance.
However, once I was on the road with Hazel, I began questioning the whys of what would keep Hazel enamored of a both a lifestyle and a boyfriend that seem more like punishment than pleasure. Detailed over and over and over again are the deplorable almost insufferable living conditions and how Hazel has to be more of a babysitter than a girlfriend to the mess that is Otis, who is always one step away from an accidental overdose or flat out killing himself. Not only could I not find any redeeming qualities in this new lifestyle Hazel seemed so drawn to, I also couldn't find redemption in Otis. His helplessness or the way he was a bit childlike in that helplessness made me feel for him, but it wasn't much. More often than not, I was confused by why a seemingly smart girl like Hazel would...