It could have gone the other way for Peter Brown Hoffmeister. He could be strung out, in prison, or dead. In his first book, Hoffmeister chronicles his adolescent downward spiral and the events which signaled that he needed to pull up, one way or another, into wild, blue manhood. “When I think about my childhood, I am confused,” he says. “There is a lot about everything I don’t understand.” We readers are game to grapple alongside for understanding, as the author doles out suspenseful moments, employing super-tuned senses, providing rich imagery, grounded reflection, and the tension inherent in a coming-of-age tale in which drugs, violence, and a genetic tendency toward OCD conspire—“I bite my fingernails until they bleed, then I bite them over again to make sure they’re all even. They never bleed evenly enough. There is so much I can’t control.”
Pressed by a mother whose “strings aren’t tied correctly,” and by a father whose “rules are like the edges of sheet metal, sharp and paradoxical,” the boy relents to an inner voice:
At night when I am alone, the machine comes suddenly like an old relative. The machine moves in, settles, unpacks its suitcases in the closet, hangs coats on the bedroom hooks. …the voice comes after. The voice demands. Calm. Insistent.
Booted from boarding school to boarding school, from one Lord of the Flies-like episode to the next, he eventually lands on a downtown Dallas bus station floor. Ultimately, he realizes the source of the voice and reaches for his own—“I start writing. …Try to write about my schools and my expulsions and traveling and Dallas. But I can’t…How could I write about love and anger and truth and pain and compulsion and starting over?” How indeed? This vivid memoir supplies the answer.