Banned for Life by D. R. Haney
I first came across Banned for Life in 2010 after having a piece published at The Nervous Breakdown and becoming involved in its literary community. One of the most colorful writer/commenters at TNB was D. R. “Duke” Haney. Haney’s debut novel, I read in his bio, was called Banned for Life, which upon further review had serious rock lit overtones, putting it right up my alley. But the thing was $21, well more than what I wanted to pay for a paperback. So, I did what any good supporter of the arts does: I tried to find it used.
When that didn’t work, I tried to hit Haney up for a free copy in a trade for my latest, Ghost Notes. Haney, on to my scheme from the onset, said he’d love to trade but didn’t have a copy of his novel to give away. I waited a year, periodically scanning the Internet, looking for a way to get Banned for Life for less than 20 bucks, to no avail. It was clear if I were going to read this thing, I’d have to suck it up and become that rarest of all creatures: a genuine supporter of small press literature. I placed my order at Powell’s, coughed up the dough, and once I had it in my hands, I plopped onto my couch.
And didn’t get up for a long time.
Banned for Life is more than just another worthy contribution to the pantheon of rock novels. It’s the best one I’ve ever read.
Jason “Killer” Maddox is Banned for Life’s narrator, and his voice is central to the appeal of the novel. It’s also a voice I associate with Haney himself, having read much of his work at The Nervous Breakdown. Instances of its power and compelling nature abound, but the first few sentences capture it as well as any: “It all began with a fuck. What doesn’t? I fucked the wrong person; I fucked up the right one; somebody played me a song. It changed my whole life, that song. That’s why I later went to so much trouble to find the guy who wrote and sang it.”
And there you have the through-story of Banned for Life, but more importantly you have the tenor of the teller: passionate, provocative, profane. It’s the kind of voice I’m inclined to listen to.
But Haney doesn’t just rely on the stun of his yawp. Throughout the novel he reveals his talent for tropes, like this passage about his best friend Peewee: “At fifteen he’d soaked up more knowledge than most people twice and three times his age, and he’d ramble through it in breathless monologues, veering from subject to subject like a house-trapped sparrow trying to find an open window.”
Or in this description of Los Angeles: “At times it reminded me of a Doors song: laid-back on the one hand, ghostly on the other—a hammock stretched between tombstones.”
Or when he first meets Peewee: “There was a sense of stumbling on a secret somehow, as if I’d tripped on a rug and discovered a cellar that wasn’t in the floor plan.”
Haney is a writer, not a blogger, and anyone who picks up Banned for Life with hopes of finding something more elevated than the latest Internet click bait won’t be disappointed.
Jason and Peewee’s relationship is front and center for much of the novel, but just as compelling to me is Jason’s girlfriend Irina, a beautiful, married, chronically detached Serbian who over the course of the last half of the novel learns the underside of what her beauty gets her. Their mutual friend Milan tries to clue Jason in:
“You know Irina—I love her very much, but she plays her game with me, you know. She does this for a long time with me, but then I realize nothing will happen.”
Despite the warning, Jason falls hard for Irina, so much so he doesn’t like her passing affection for anyone, even his long-gone friend Peewee. “Here was a girl so astonishing in every way, I was always going to feel jealous, even of someone who’d been dead for years.”
Much passes between the two lovebirds, most of it maddening for Jason. Not since Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley does a literary relationship seem so doomed for the outset.
If anything in Banned for Life made me bump, it was the occasional gesture of Jason to his own comeliness, or strength, or sexual prowess. For example: “There’s no other way to say it: I was a big, tall, handsome guy.” And later with Irina: “‘I think I’m going to leave,’ she said, and started to get up, but I pulled her down and fucked her nearly comatose, and she was nothing if not encouraging.” That great voice loses a bit for me in these instances. When Jason reflects, “I’m not trying to suggest my dick is that big, or I’m that great in bed,” we know he’s suggesting just that.
But these quibbles can't ebb the flow of goodwill I feel for Banned for Life. Haney has created a tale both tender and bombastic--not unlike your favorite rock album--and the book fulfills the promise of the rock novel better than any other to date.
And you better believe it’s worth $21.
Yours in laying down the law,
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