By Bud Smith
Piscataway House, 2015
236 pages, $13
Reviewed by Gabino Iglesias
Eschewing a typical narrative arc in favor of a wild, unpredictable sequence of events that are held together only by chronological succession and a few bizarre characters is a bold move for an author because it requires the narrative to possess a plethora of strengths to counterbalance what it lacks. Fortunately for Bud Smith, and for those who read his latest novel, F-250, he is not an average writer, and his knack for crackling dialogue and surprising explosions of poetry make his avoidance of archetypal structures a truly beautiful thing.
Lee Casey’s life is more or less in shambles. He lives in a dilapidated house on the verge of being demolished, drives a pickup truck with break problems that’s constantly slamming into other cars and various inanimate objects, and plays guitar in a noise band called Ottermeat. Lee works as a stone mason and stays afloat that way, but his job, just like all other aspects of his life, are considered transitory because the band is about to leave NJ behind in hopes of making it in Los Angeles. However, while that unreliable plan morphs into various versions of a broken/abandoned dream, life goes on: Lee loses a very close friend to an overdose, contemplates life while drinking beer, and, almost by accident, enters a three-way relationship with June Doom and K Neon, two college girls with open minds and complicated emotional baggage.
F-250 is a one of those strange novels that’s simultaneously about nothing and everything. Lee seems to lead a somewhat stagnant existence and his future is shady at best, but something about the way he looks at life, something about his blue collar philosophy and peaceful acceptance of things other people would freak out about, make readers know that he will be okay regardless of what life throws his way. That being said, this narrative is packed with melancholy, pain, and that sense of aimless wandering punctuated by incredibly bright and crushingly dark moments that are a sine qua non element of all outstanding narratives about youth.
The evening had no direction. I picked up the phone and looked at the numbers, considering a few I could dial, but ultimately dialing no one.
I closed my eyes, almost nodding out. But I’m hungry. And there’s no beer. And I don’t want to be alone, in an empty house, trashed, demolition looming, and me refusing to clean.
To the boardwalk, I decided. Muscle memory. Failsafe. Going through the motions. Pizza, a beer or two. A slow walk, see who’s around. Someone’s always around.
For a novel with no clear plot and many subplots, F-250 holds up incredibly well for almost 250 pages, and the main reason for that are Smith’s talents both as a writer and as an observer. For starters, Lee’s voice is so real and authentic that it’s impossible not to consider him a vessel for some of Smith’s personal experiences. Also, there is a strange and beautiful mixture of prose and poetry here that come from the author’s love for poetry (and do check out his poetry book, Everything Neon, if you haven’t done so yet). Smith writes with the straightforwardness and ease you’d expect from a conversation with an old friend, but also throws in zen-like observations and turns of phrase that elevate F-250 and make it dance between the gritty, real feel of storytelling done at a bar over beers and the beauty of literary fiction done right.
F-250 is an entertaining and sometimes touching novel about being young and not having a plan, but it’s also a smart look at friendship and the way relationships work and then crumble. Bud Smith has managed to deliver a story that feels real and which successfully brings together suffering and beauty, lust and being lost, uncertainty and the true power of enjoying the present.