Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: Still Life with Brass Pole, by Craig Machen

Reviewed by Christina
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Published: 2011

It's about: Screenwriter Craig Machen chronicles his late teenagerdom and early twenties, a period fraught with alcoholism, steroids, and sex addiction. The term "coming-of-age memoir" grates on my nerves, but I can't think of any better category for Still Life with Brass Pole. Machen works as a bouncer in strip clubs, chips away at a college degree, and bodybuilds, all while looking for love in all the wrong places.

I thought: After reading Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man, I wanted to know more about women who work as exotic dancers. So when a copy of Still Life was offered to The Blue Bookcase, I eagerly agreed to review it. I hoped it would be an insider's view of strip clubs, and in that respect it didn't disappoint: I feel I've learned enough to satiate my curiosity. Machen dated a couple of dancers, and I think of them like case studies; I can extrapolate that many strippers are emotionally fragile women who have troubled pasts and addictive personalities. They might want to do something else for a living, but they're reeled in, time and again, by the money and attention showered on them in the clubs.

Strippers aside, Craig Machen himself is an interesting character. His raunchy exploits and paradoxical savior complex make for one shock-worthy past, and his witty, conversational tone works perfectly for this kind of material. The story is peppered with clever, unique similes and metaphors and amusing 1970's pop culture references (many of which went over my head). I kept wishing that I were listening to him speak instead of reading his book, so that I could ask him to clarify the references I didn't understand, and so that I would be able to turn off the part of my brain that constantly tries to improve everything I read. Can you see where I'm heading with this?

Yep, you guessed it. The big problem I had with this book was the clear lack of quality proofreading and editing. The text is riddled with punctuation errors and awkwardly-constructed sentences. Mr. Machen expresses himself well. He's funny and has a page-turner of a story to tell. He just needs some polishing. Everyone needs an editor, after all. Everyone. To be fair, I'm more persnickety than most readers about this kind of thing.

Verdict: In Between. I'd recommend it more heartily if a big publishing house did a revised second edition.

Reading Recommendations: Check it out if you liked Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors or other memoirs of messed-up adolescence.

Warnings: Um, pretty much everything. Lots of sex (including sexual abuse of a child), swears, drug use, fairly vivid descriptions of anatomy. It takes place largely in strip clubs so... you do the math.

Favorite excerpts: "Edie is also off the charts vain and egotistical; which, of course, only makes her more appealing. She knows what she is and refuses to shy away from it, and for this reason, she reminds me of an NBA center wearing KISS boots to look taller, or maybe Sasquatch in a fur coat. She is a bully of beauty, and where most hot girls will wear less revealing costumes on the floor, she makes a point of wearing the most revealing."

What I'm reading next: The Upside of Irrationality, by Dan Ariely