It could be the start of a horror movie. Two days before New Year’s, five friends head to a cabin in Nevada for a week of raucous partying. They’ve got enough Old Crow to drown an elephant and more memories shared between them than an old timer’s club. This shindig, which gets cut tragically short, is a send-off for Lucy, aka Lady Hatchet, who will soon be starting a corporate gig. “The night was rage,” thinks AJ, our narrator, as their first evening rears into gear. In this isolated cabin, these five friends—Dinky, Hickory, Basil, Lucy, and AJ—get down to it while outside the world is washed away by a God-is-punishing-us rain.
There’s no bottom until you hit it, we’re reminded throughout D. Foy’s first novel Made To Break, which was published by Two Dollar Radio last week. Taking place over the course of a hellish 36 hours, it reads like a macabre mumblecore script penned by Jim Thompson. There’s the non-stop cuss-encrusted dialogue (where “Fucking banana dick!” and “trust-fund piece of crap“ are bandied about as cordial insults); there’s the weird, almost unbreakable bond of friendship that holds these fools tight; there’s enough cool culture to keep you on your hip toes (Jim Carroll, Klaus Kinski, and Chips Ahoy all get shout-outs); and there’s this psychotic union of invulnerability, bug-eyed terror, and shrill laughter, a symbiotic mix that’s the result of too much drinking and too many drugs. It’s one swell medley of mayhem and defeat dashed together by the vitality of D. Foy’s prose.
Soon as the novel begins, we’re already on a collision course with disaster. While on a quick trip to the convenience store, AJ and Dinky get into a crash, leaving Dinky looking “downright fucked.” Luckily, they’re rescued by Super, a “grizzled old man” who, with his truck full of broken doll parts and dog named Fortinbras, has stepped right out of a slasher movie parody. “You’ll do what you’ve done, you’ll get what you’ve got,” Super says, before taking AJ and Dinky back to the cabin. Calamity ensues. And so the night goes, with injury, humiliation, violence, and kindness blending together. It’s a scene where Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas can be quoted liked a religious text and Iggy Pop and Jelly Roll Morton serve as the poets laureate. At times, AJ frets about his past and future. He wonders when they’ll reach the end of excess. “In all our years,” AJ thinks, “our lasting pride was standing off the Comedown.” But he knows such a crash is inevitable. Anyway, they’re getting too old for this roller coaster ride of recklessness. “Where but in the very asshole of comedown is redemption?” asks poet A.R. Ammons. Which is where we all find ourselves every now and then. Right up in that asshole, squealing for redemption.
One challenge with dialogue in books—versus in movies or plays where talking, shouting, and other sounds can easily be overlaid—is how to create a manageable cacophony. After a few drinks, or even without them, our words are often at war with each other’s. I’ve started speaking before you’ve finished your thoughts and Georgie is already chiming in with an anecdote of his own. How does a writer create this verve of voices on the static page? The pace, punch, and spontaneity of D. Foy’s dialogue show how it’s done:
“Let us drink,” I shouted, “to the success of Lucille Bonnery. May she live long and prosper in her new status as Queen of the Corporate Raiders.”
Dinky found the strength to burble “Hear! Hear!” while Basil sat up with “I’ll drink to that—hell, I’ll drink to anything!” They emptied their glasses with a single draught, Hickory and Lucille, too. “A toast!” they said, and drank.
The second sentence displays an inventiveness for interweaving dialogue. By combining two quick cheers, from Dinky and Basil, into a single line, D. Foy overlaps their voices. Then by naming Hickory and Lucy in the next sentence you get to hear everyone, individually and all at once. Each voice is audible simultaneously. It’s like the writer is at the mixing board, twisting the knobs until the levels are just right.
By establishing a vernacular unique to this group of ruthless friends, D. Foy also develops a narrative force that can be propelled by conversation alone. This is particularly true for the chapters where monologues dominate, monologues that are realistically intercut and thus driven by the other characters’ interruptions. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to boff a stuffed animal monkey at age ten? Look no further than Basil’s monologue about this puerile encounter. “There’s more,” AJ says about Basil after learning of the stuffed monkey affair. “There’s always more with this guy.” The same could be said of D. Foy. More frightfully good tales are told over a wicked game of Truth or Dare, with the monologue-ers powering through their friends’ jerky commentary to pull back the scab of shame and reveal the storyteller’s lurid wound of truth. It’s intimate. Horrible, embarrassing, distasteful, and gross, but definitely intimate.
In one sense, Made To Break fits into a familiar literary genre, call it “DRUGS! Liberators of the Soul,” where even if many horrible things happen the overriding message is that it was well worth it because only through a descent into substance abuse and madness can the protagonist truly sate his desire to be free—free from the shackles of bourgeois tyranny, free from responsibility, free from life. Books like Fear and Loathing, Trainspotting, Jesus’ Son, and The Basketball Diaries fit into this genre. Here young men (and with the exception of Fiona Maazel’s Last Last Chance, it’s always young men) pursue drugs because they’re an appealing escape and opportunity for adventure, sort of like a real estate company offering a one-season stay in Hell. And Hell isn’t that bad once you get chummy with the residents. In fact, it can be quite fun if you’re only renting.
In another sense, however, Made To Break reads strictly as a parable about the end of youth—youth, that long malaise of endless adolescence, which now seems to stretch until age thirty (or however old Jimmy Chen is). In this parable reading, the excesses, chaos, and pain become universal. They turn into symbols any reader can relate to. They’re the typical chicanery, awesomeness, and stupidity of youth. Even death becomes a symbol, representing not the cessation of life but, instead, the collapse of friendships we once believed would hold forever. All those people you thought you’d always be chill with at some point they’ve moved off or gone corporate or gotten married. And that’s that. What you shared and cherished is now little more than a few bad Facebook pics and some memories wilted at the edges, the last vestige a lingering for what’s been lost—this is what AJ calls “[t]hat familiar longing for my noons of summer”—a dreamy, easily ignored pining for those glory days (and nights) of time so well misspent.
Ultimately, whatever your take on the book, page by page it is a blast to read. If here or there there’s a line that could’ve been edited out that also fits into the vision of excess. D. Foy’s world is awash in words. The good times roll until AJ and his friends inevitably give a big, ole a kiss to the asshole of comedown and their long nights fueled by bourbon and talk finally get stamped out like a cigarette butt. Morning and redemption will be here before they know it. Zainy, sly, and darkly comedic, Made to Break is a heartfelt ode to the brutalities of friendship and those wild youthful times (who wouldn’t still cling to?) when “[t]he only things that mattered were books and booze.”