09 February 2012

Books: How Evan Broke His Head and Other Stories by Garth Stein (2004)

Garth Stein had a huge hit with his third novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. While I’ve not read it, I remember while working for Borders how many people bought this book, especially women, who seemed to love the idea about a novel told by the perspective of a dog. Somehow, for reasons I can’t remember, I bought Stein’s second novel How Evan Broke His Head and Other Stories. Maybe I thought it was humorous, maybe it was because the premise sounded interesting, or maybe I bought it because someone else recommended to me. Or, in the end, maybe I bought it because I want to understand an authors who become popular; that I want to read their earlier stuff, the ones before they became famous.

I know it's odd, but I usually enjoy a TV show, a movie or a book before anyone else discovers it and becomes huge. Reading, unlike other media, gives me a chance to find something only a handful of people read, not the general masses. I like discovering new authors, and will usually take a risk more on them, than say taking a risky job or going to a gay bar by myself. I think, perhaps, I can control the book better than I control other aspects of my life.


Evan Wallace is the son of a wealthy Seattle heart surgeon. When he was 12, he chivalrously substituted for his kid brother in a game of chicken and was hit by a car; his injuries resulted in epilepsy. At 17, his girlfriend, Tracy, became pregnant, had their baby, but then left town with her family, freezing Evan out. He went on to become a guitarist, with one big hit. Now, as the story opens, Evan is 31, Tracy is dead from a car accident, and he’s attending her funeral in Walla Walla, an uninvited guest who sees his son, Dean, for the first time.

What follows is an adventure in parenting for Evan, who appears to be more damaged than Dean, who while not having everything, somehow is more adult than his father. I enjoyed the book, and it’s a fast read, but you do get frustrated with Evan. He blames his parents for most of his later in life failures –and his parents appear to be logical, calculated people who put status and positions above emotions and love. Yet, like many of us, who really is to fault for our own personal failures? It’s not until the end that Evan fully understands he’s still –on an emotional level- a 14 year-old just like his son. But the reader got that idea a long time ago.

In between we see Evan make up one lie after another to cover his own short comings as a guitarist, as a lover to Mica (who for some reason has fallen in love with Evan despite the fact she seems out of his league) and as a father to Dean. At some point, it becomes too much, and the book collapses under some its weighty issues.

There is some biting humor, some family dysfunction which appeals to me (I can't figure out why I enjoy those types of books) and it's a good read, but flawed. Will it make me want to read his first and third novels? Probably not, but you never know.

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