Losing In Gainesville by Brian Costello (5 out of 5)
Bookending the previous book reviewed (The Barefoot Queen) with this book was a real good idea. There aren’t many books that will completely upend you, along with the coffee table, as easily as a book about a “gaggle” (my word. And yes, like geese) of lovable losers slumming around Gainesville, Florida, in the 1990’s. Florida continues to fascinate me, from a respectable distance.
Ronnie Altamonte moves to Florida to start the “great underground garage band” that he’s wanted to. He doesn’t expect to find a cornucopia of oddballs roaming the streets of Gainesville, the University of Florida and the rousing party lifestyle you WOULD expect, all sorts of miscreants diving into dumpsters for food and whatever else looks salvageable, more partying and trying to pick up chicks on every corner, and the sad reality that you left something that wasn’t so bad for something that turns out to be nothing like the things you had dreamed of. Life is passing you by, and you’re hitching on the side of the road wearing a banana costume. That’s the gist of this book. Ronnie is hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. I laughed at parts until my side hurt, and groaned loudly at parts when I just saw Ronnie’s meteoric rise quickly declining into Planet Gainesville. He’s not going to buckle and take the straight and narrow road to imagined stardom, because that’s boring and he’s not into that scene, man. You really want this poor guy to succeed. You want to hand some of his friends razors and bar soap and tell them to stop drowning themselves in Axe body spray (body spray is not cologne, either. Thanks for backing that up, Costello!). Other friends you want to just shove into a feegan dumpster and set the bunch on fire. It’s a fun book. I would say Fast Times At Ridgemont High meets the 90’s Alternative Crowd itching for a Days of the New reunion.
Overall, I can’t tell you enough how this book steals you. As in, away from whatever you have that’s important. Like trying to sleep. Not happening if you pick this book up before bed. The book captures your heart, some box of nostalgia that’s been hiding in that part of the shed that you haven’t cleaned out in five years, and some undefinable spirit that has been missing in books for awhile. There is a spirit about this that I haven’t found in a book since Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It means buy it, read it, pass it on. In my case, sell it like a fiend around the holidays (true story). Another thing you should prepare for is that Costello has a unique gift, not just for making you laugh until you cry and vice versa, but for making you re-read entire passages of the book, due just to the descriptiveness of his work. This man can write! Seriously. I have never felt more sucked into a 7-11 than when Costello describes walking out of the humidity of the Gainesville sun into an air-conditioned 7-11. The description of the smell of the hot dogs roasting on the warmers? Yeah. I swear I smelled that same aroma in my house for DAYS after reading his description. He sets the stage beautifully, and the entire book reads like that. So- if you’re reading some heavy literature (ie previous book), this is a great respite. If you just need to be swept away into a fun bunch of weed smoking music wannabes, this is a good place to start.