Dzanc Books, 192 pages, paperback, $11.98
One of the things that make Stephen Graham Jones’s work special is the way in which he manages to take somewhat familiar themes and give them a new and unique twist. With Flushboy, his latest release with Dzanc Books, Jones tackles youthful angst, teenage awkwardness, young love, and even bathroom humor with a narrative that has a foot on each side of the dividing line between tragicomedy and bizarro.
Flushboy follows a 16-year-old kid who has to spend the night working at his father’s business, a drive-thru urinal. Like most teenagers, he has girl problems, places he’d rather be, and family issues, but his situation is a tad worse because he also has one of the most humiliating jobs imaginable. Between wondering why his father’s entrepreneurial spirit took such a wrong turn, going crazy with jealousy, thinking about going to a game, and dealing with hours of work handling other people’s warm urine, the boy is the focus of a narrative that builds to a very wet and surprisingly tender finale.
I’ve read most of Jones’s novels and keep wondering if he’ll even drop a stink bomb on his faithful readers. When I realized Flushboy was a coming of age story full of people peeing and handling pee, I thought the time for a bad Jones novel had come. It wasn’t so. Sure, there’s some potty humor and literally hundreds of gallons of urine flowing at one point in the book, but Flushboy is a funny, tender narrative about putting up with family, enduring shame, and learning about the unendingly complicated intricacies of relationships. Also, the author managed to convey young frustration in a voice that sounds real, not like an adult trying to sound like a youngster.
Despite being short and taking place in or around the microcosm that is The Bladder Hut, this novel is a satisfying read because it delivers a complete and entertaining plot and Jones throws in things like a small mystery and plenty of humor to keep things engaging. Jones excels in whatever genre he tackles, and he does so again here.
Flushboy is a weird beast that combines literary prose with scenes that will become classics for anyone who’s into water sports. It’s also one of Jones’s strangest outings, and that’s saying a lot.
Gabino Iglesias is writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.