Alias: Simon
M.O. Ransoming; Coveting his neighbor; Gang wrangling
Known Crimes: Kidnapping; Not paying for smiles
First Appearance: River City Ransom (Technos, NES, 1990)
Work under review: Bright Lights, River City
Waterfront Publishing, 432pp.
List price 67.50

Profile by Marc Host? | March 24, 2011

Let me preface this review by addressing the elephant in the room. Nobody wants to read a 400-page memoir written entirely in cut-up scraps of magazines. The entire exercise comes across as being indulgent of the worst excesses of arrogance that we could expect from a man who was a teenager in the Reagan era, expecting that anyone would want to suffer through parsing the disjointed and slapdash lettering that he claims to have taken the bulk of the time in the writing.

And this I’d believe, as it’s clear he didn’t spend much time on the rest of his memoir’s contents. The first three chapters are lifted wholesale from Dickens, the author claiming to have actually been raised in Victorian England as a poor and starving urchin until he finally got the break he needed to move to America and attend elementary school. Here the book takes a turn in tone to something more akin to a pamphlet for weight gain pills. The scrawny nerd befriended and then betrayed by the hideous but muscular jock who takes away his girl and leaves him a broken shell.

Perhaps the only thing more disorienting than the typeface is the revisionist history that ensues. We all remember what happened in River City at the turn of the decade, the gang violence that broke out and left as many as three malls in an uproar over the number of trash cans and tires that went bouncing through their store front windows. As Slick writes the tale, he would have us believe that after countless attempts to be the better man and reach out to his childhood friend Alex these stalwart young men from good schools all came to him in his greatest time of need, when he was weeping delicately beneath a willow tree in the park.

Hearing of the plight that had burned in his heart for years, the upstanding gentlemen of several young boy’s academies went in groups of nine to speak to Alex and relay the message that Slick was too tender-hearted to say himself, that he simply wanted to remain friends with the girl whose affections Alex had stolen away in their youth. As he would have it, Alex then proceeded to violently tear into these innocent stalwart examples of the best his generation had to offer with nary a finger lifted in retaliation, a sickening slap in the face to those of us who woke up in January of 1990 to find ALEX SUX crudely spray-painted across our garage doors.

But even all of this could be forgiven as entertaining fiction composed as fact, even to someone as personally affected by the conflict all those years ago as I was. Where the memoir becomes irredeemable is its devolution into sheer fantasy when Slick is confronted by Alex, clearly the climax of the author’s life. What follows is a fantasy subversion of everything he suffered through childhood involving his gaining psychic abilities, the support of the River City fire department, police department, and Girl Scout Troop 219, and of course the love of his childhood sweetheart through the course of a knock-down drag-out civilized debate that lasted nearly two weeks atop River City High School. His life after the conflict then seems to devolve into nothing but increasingly graphic descriptions of the wedded bliss he has been in since that day, often punctuated by exclamations such as “YEAH ALEX, WHAT YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?”

The book then abruptly ends with a single page claiming that he holds the city captive with the compelling tale contained within the very pages of the memoir, and that anyone who doesn’t recommend it to their friends will be in for the fight of their lives. Unfathomably fantasized, an eyesore to read, and coin-for-coin the worst value since Javelin Man, I cannot on good faith recommend Bright Lights, River City to anyone.


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