Friday, 22 March 2013

ALL THE WILD CHILDREN by Josh Stallings - a review

Anyone who has read Stallings’ two novels: OUT THERE BAD and BEAUTIFUL, NAKED, AND DEAD, will know Stallings is the real deal. He writes from the heart with prose ripped from his gut, dialogue straight out of the mouths of the lonely and lost – denziens of those dark places deep within us all. ALL THE WILD CHILDREN is not for the faint of heart. But then the truth often isn’t.

From the author of the critically acclaimed Moses McGuire crime series comes a brutally honest memoir. Raised in the 60's counter-culture, a teen in the 70's, and a father in the go go 80's. White boy in a ghetto high school. Guns. Drugs. Sex. Fatherhood. Heart warming, uplifting and tough. A life writ large.

I am 50, and I am sitting in the day room of a mental hospital. The world around me is muted colours. Scuffed white floors and walls. Pale-green scrubs. The dayroom is full. Brown skin, light skin, crazy is democratic. Men, women, in between, crazy takes no sides in the gender way.
Crazy takes casualities.
Crazy takes prisoners.

ALL THE WILD CHILDREN is a biography – a departure from Stallings’ novels but not by as much as you might think. In fact, if you came into the world of Josh Stallings blind you’d be hard-pressed to separate his novels from this incredible memoir. 

You see, Josh Stallings is not a writer sitting in his comfortable middle class apartment constructing a cast of drug-crazed, booze-fuelled, cut-throat characters living life on the edge of a knife, breathing in death and carnage, never knowing if they’re going to wake up in the morning and not giving a shit. 

This was Stallings’ life. 

And in ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, we get it all – told with breathtaking honesty and humility. 

Unlike many biographies, ALL THE WILD CHILDREN is not strictly linear in nature. Yes, there is a beginning and there is an end, but in between we cut between the fifty year old Stallings, back to the seven year old, up to the twenty year old, back to the four year old – sometimes all on one page. Here is an example from the beginning of the book:

I am 5, watching my older brother Lark as he kneels to say his prayers, he is seven and my best friend. He speaks to Jesus. I think he must be faking it when he prays, because I am. Or maybe he really does hear God’s voice. Maybe God talks to him because he likes Lark better than me.

I am 6, my folks are at each other again. Their screaming is part of the background noise of my life. Like traffic in the city only this noise you don’t get used to.

I am 7, and my father is yelling at my mother. She screams back. I stand between them and rage, ‘You told me God doesn’t want us to fight, so why are you?’ Good Quaker logic I think. I’m thrown against the wall. My father’s hand on my throat. Pinned.

I am 50, and I wonder why I still feel the grip of that hand.

And on it goes. Hypnotic. Heart-pumping. Incredible. 

We watch as the boy Josh moves from a violently disordered household into a violently disordered world – the world of the sixties and early seventies, an era of change, an era of hope, an era of disintegration. 

Through it all, Josh makes some undeniably bad decisions, self-destructing before our eyes. Stallings puts us there, just off camera, watching this young man desperately trying to do what is right, yet destroying himself and those around him in the process.

Through it all, through all the mayhem and the hurt, are Josh’s siblings – particularly his older brother – Lark. The Stallings children are the sort of children where, as Stallings says throughout the book – you mess with one, you mess with all. 

Against all the odds, Stallings survives.

And survives is the word.

The last part of the book brings us back to the waiting room at the psychiatric hospital. Stallings is now a husband and a father, a film editor in Hollywood. Yet the chaos and the heartache and the pain continues unabated.

Having read the first two thirds of the book with my jaw hanging open, I read this last third on the edge of tears.

There are two books I carry with me through my life – ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL by Richard Bach. 

In ALL THE WILD CHILDREN by Josh Stallings, I have found a third.  

This book is about courage. It is about unbreakable bonds and the immutability of love.This book has changed my life. And this review, it just scratches the surface.

ALL THE WILD CHILDREN by Josh Stallings is available from Amazon UK here and Amazon US here

1 comment:

  1. Easily one of my favorite memoir reads of recent.