by Blair Mastbaum
Alyson Books. 242 pages, $12.95
BLAIR MASTBAUM’S impressive comic debut novel, set in Hawaii, presents the serious love choices of its fifteen-turning-sixteen-year-old narrator Sam, an unskilled skateboarder who has a crush on the slightly older Clay, an accomplished surfer. Rebel Sam listens to music “with lyrics about not fitting in and hating the status quo.” Clay likes anarchic punk rock but aspires to the unexamined life of “cool brahs, hot chicks, good waves.” The novel traces Sam from the alienation and anomie he shares with his friends—who drink, take drugs, and party all night—to a transforming awakening achieved through an examination of his desire for love and intimacy with Clay.
When the macho Clay seduces the eager Sam and professes “I love you, man” but doesn’t follow through emotionally, Sam must confront his reasons for choosing Clay as a love object. Do we fall in love with our opposite, the person we want to be? Sam confesses that surfers like Clay have “egos that I hate, but at the same time they turn me on.” The physical charge that Clay gives Sam is not enough, causing Sam to ask, “Why can’t [Clay] be a genius at expressing himself, making me feel loved and cared about?” Sam’s young woman friend Kendra tells him she knows he’s gay and provides Sam with a clue to the surface of Clay’s masculinity, saying that his macho surfer attitudes—his ego—could have been developed to hide the fact that he might be gay himself.