Behind the Book

Behind the Book Piece
Angry Young Man by Chris Lynch

The book was born out of one very clear thought: It's not the hardest thing in the world to make an adolescent male angry. Really, antisocially, angry.

There was no point in my youth when I would say I fit into the classic category of Angry Young Man. But when I look back I can identify many junctures where, with the proper nudge this way or that, I could well have done something profoundly stupid which would have earned me that dubious distinction. Was I Mr. Clean? Um, no. But my transgressions were relatively minor, and it seemed that whenever I was about to do my best to do my worst I got lucky, I got a do-over, or I got a well-timed head slap from the right person at the right time.

It is not hard to imagine that right person being the wrong person. And if somebody was of a mind to spray gasoline over my adolescent fire, where might I be today?

My feeling is that almost nobody wakes up in the morning and says, y' know, I think I'll screw with the fabric of society today. There is a whole life that brings a character to a certain room at a certain time, and that life bears examination. The whole obvious, consensus-based good guys versus bad guys view of things is as tiresome as it is bogus.

Which is why the concept of extremism, of rage begetting violence, lends itself so well to novelization. It is a far more nuanced thing than most immediate, high-speed, noisy media coverage is built to convey. Terrorism, to use the generic term, is fed by fear and fury and disillusion, by disenfranchisement and a feeling of impotence. We read about it when it becomes vile headline making stuff. But before it is news, it is somebody's existence.

Angry Young Man, the book, is just what it says it is. But I hope it has resonance beyond one guy's inability to cope. I wanted to show one of these people who could someday get famous for all the wrong reasons, before he builds into that potential monster. Alexander, the AYM in question, is a relatively normal kid, with perhaps abnormal sensitivity and an inability to enter into proper negotiations with the world. He is not bad, but he is, in a sense, mad.

Adolescence, as I recall, is a sort of insanity all its own. And in particular the male adolescence has its well-known manifestations, cheered on by both bellowing hormones on the inside and a, frankly, knuckleheaded culture all around him. When frustration rises, when you are told in so many ways that you are not terribly big or important, when your concerns are ignored or laughed at, when you have taught yourself to be man enough to get your emotions on lockdown, what do you do? You do what you've learned. You act on primal impulse rather than trying to manage it. You look your problem squarely in the eye, then you punch that problem. Or you shoot it. Or you cluster bomb it. These are visceral, irrational responses but they address the young man's timeless desire to have his problems fall down dead at his feet.

Then he thinks, the world might not understand my action right now, but just wait, you'll all appreciate me later. I am going to create massive pain, in the name of sensitive souls like me everywhere.

The world at large makes a guy feel like this in a myriad of different ways every day. Much of the time, the world in one's own home achieves a similar effect that hurts even worse. Alexander's older brother, Robert, loves him, mocks him, provokes him, encourages him, builds him up, shrinks him. Robert realizes, very late on, that maybe the joke wasn't such a joke. That maybe people need to be listened to no matter how nutty they are sounding. Sometimes because they are sounding, superficially, nutty.

And in finally trying to save his brother, Robert realizes that even the supposed best of us, like himself, have limits, and demons, and dark potentials.

Good people can do bad things. Stupid, horrific things that can have tragic consequences. And at a time in life when it can seem to a young person that to be inconsequential is a fate worse than death, it can be heroic just to be there to let him know otherwise.

Oh, and I was crap to my younger brother when we were growing up. We sort of have an agreement that I will confess that whenever I have a public platform to do so. Because my brother is a generous and gentle spirit by nature, we do laugh about this today. But I am also convinced that he, like most of us, had a breaking point. What if I had poured peroxide into his drinking water one more time? What if I had left him locked in the pantry for one more hour before he finally agreed to my terms and sang "Release Me," by Englebert Humperdinck at the top of his lungs? And this is not even to mention the consistent low-level violence and general psychological meanness I am to embarrassed to put into print. I was creative in my torture, and I was relentless.

And come to think of it, I was angry.

What if the ages, and the roles, had been reversed? Would I have been as good a kid, as gentle a man, as my brother.

No. I am nearly certain of it.

And I realize this backstory is splashed all over Angry Young Man, on the first page and the last. And I realize I write about this in various forms, over and over again.