Dead Boys

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

At a time when literary fiction is more inclined to plumb the travails of thirtyish Manhattan media types and Chicago ad-agency loafers than the nation’s barely-scraping-by, this debut story collection from tender-hearted L.A. gritster Richard Lange is a balm. Not that he traffics in dry social-inequality case studies—the unfulfilled, frequently unemployable burnouts who populate his work are as much self-made screw-ups as they are the flotsam of metastasized consumer culture. And therein lies their beauty.

Lange is largely resistant to Bukowski-style romanticizing (although he flirts with sentimentality in “Fuzzyland” and “Bank of America”), and instead explores how La-La Land’s singular mix of euphoria and good old American desperation spark “the kind of self-immolating rage that drives men to decisive, if reckless, even destructive acts.” He has an eye for the milieu, which Dead Boys captures with lucidity. But Lange’s real gift is the staggering degree to which he identifies with the speed freaks, high-functioning boozers and stultified wage slaves toiling in SoCal’s sun-bleached anonymity.

This fiercely humane approach lends counterintuitive nobility to the bottled-up restlessness that sabotages a precarious suburban marriage in “Long Lost” and the suicide-haunted inertia that defines the protagonist of “Love Lifted Me.” Even better, it serves as a sly critique of the bourgie notion that social striving is more intrinsically redemptive than, say, getting shit-faced and setting your car on fire. As a gut-shot security guard succinctly puts it in “Loss Prevention,” “There exist certain wildflowers that must be burned in order to bloom, and who’s to say I’m not one of them?” Heard that.

By Richard Lange. Little, Brown; $21.99.