Banned For Life by D.R. Haney – book review
November 14, 2009
Banned For Life is an autobiographical novel (a.k.a. a thinly disguised memoir where the names are changed) which tells the story of a Punk rocker who eventually turns to film making after years of failed attempts at starting a successful band. Taking place in North Carolina, New York City, and Los Angeles, this book is in a way an attempted reconciliation of how the 1980's became the 1990's. The core of this novel is centered around a generation that was expected to self destruct from its own nihilism and how they tried to figure out what to do with themselves when they didn't all end up dying before the age of thirty like the world predicted. Haney criticizes his peers that ended up settling into a bland existence in the novel's most memorable quote, stating that "nothing comes from comfort but the fear of losing it, and that's exactly where my generation made its big mistake."
The story is told in a conversational tone of voice which has its pros and cons. While this technique keeps the reader interested, at times the narration gets to be a bit choppy and the pace of the story telling is a bit slow at first. In fact the first one hundred pages were a bit hard to get through, but once the story picked up it transitioned into being an engaging page turner.
The appeal of the book lies in a colorful cast of characters, from the narrator (called Jason in the book), to Peewee- his intellectual counterpart and Punk rock mentor, and Irina- a Serbian women with whom Jason has a love affair behind her husband's back. Added into the mix is Jim Cassady- a former member of the L.A. Punk scene who has disappeared from the public eye. A large chunk of the story revolves around Jason's attempts to track down Cassady whose role shifts from being a Jim Carroll meets Darby Crash type Punk rock star to becoming a washed up Punk rock version of On the Road's Dean Moriarty.
Sprinkled throughout the book are subcultural references of all kinds. It doesn't take long to realize that Jim Cassady's name is derived from Neal Cassady and either Jim Morrison, Jim Carroll, or both. Haney's cultural lexicon also includes nods to Punk bands like Rhino 39, X, the Germs, Minor Threat, the Replacements, the Cockney Rejects and Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Likewise location plays a central role in the story and Angelinos may get a kick out of references to Echo Park and Atwater Village while New Yorkers may recognize the Lower East Side of the early 1980's and landmarks like the A7.
Haney manages to incorporate some social and political messages into the book without ever coming off as too preachy or in your face. He criticizes cultural homogenization, U.S. imperialism, and the inescapable grip that large corporations have on both politics and our day to day lives. He does so through debates that his characters are engaged in and on a subtler level through the plot itself, which often focuses on trying to make a decent living while also trying to keep both artistic and personal integrity. The intricacies of Haney's characters allow him to cleverly express his own values through his characters' words and actions.
While Haney's first novel may not have a mass appeal to the status quota, it certainly does cater rather nicely to a niche audience. The themes that the book addresses are ones that any man who has tried to juggle both career aspirations and a commitment to going against the grain can relate to. Likewise anyone who has an interest in the American Punk scene of the 1980's will find plenty in this book to latch onto. Haney has proven himself to be a very promising writer and hopefully in future writings he will be able to maintain his gritty style and his ability to present characters in multiple dimensions. These are all rare gifts and Haney should be proud of his abilities as a novelist.
Here is a source for the book:
Banned for Life from www.amazon.com