Lawnboy

Lawnboy

by Paul Lisicky

Turtle Point Press, 386 pp., $13.95 (paper)

Paul Lisicky currently divides his time between Houston and Provincetown, Massachusetts, but he's clearly still haunted by his roots -- the overdeveloped, swampy, and always sun-soaked landscapes of South Florida. This Florida, the "bloated appendage at the end of the United States," is where Lisicky sets his uneven first novel, Lawnboy.

Lawnboy opens, quite literally, with a bang -- at least of the sexual variety. The narrator, 17-year-old Evan, is a budding homosexual whose life so far has consisted only of crushes and occasional jollying around with other curious boys. Then, on the eve of his high school graduation, he begins caring for the lawn of a neighbor, an older man named William. Soon enough Evan is doing a lot more than trimming William's hedges. The two begin an affair, and when Evan's parents hear of it they demand he give William up or move out. Try as he might to suppress his true feelings, he eventually moves in with William.

The novel begins promisingly, as Lisicky charts the ups and downs of not just any relationship, but one between an older man who's no longer an energetic horn-dog and a young man who's just starting out in his quest for sexual and emotional fulfillment. In this section of the novel, Lisicky charts Evan's conflicting emotions deftly.

But when Evan leaves William and moves in with his estranged brother, who runs a broken-down motel near Miami, the novel begins to sag beneath too much mopey melodrama. One major problem is Lisicky's fondness for having Evan spit out page after page of internalized questions. Not a page seems to go by where Evan isn't asking himself overwrought questions like, "Wasn't it better to extinguish oneself than to lose one's light, little by little?" or "Crying, crying: Why couldn't I stop myself from crying?" It's a writing tick that begins to grate after 300 pages. Evan, precocious and engaging early in the novel, becomes a big drag as the novel progresses.

The novel is peppered with stories from Evan's younger years, including a humorous and moving account of his time at a summer camp where he befriended a boy known as "Dickless." The novel is strongest in such episodes, hitting musical notes of insight and wit that the main narrative strains for. Moreover, Lisicky's descriptions of the modern Floridian landscape -- teeming with palm trees and other flora, condos, huge drainage ditches -- are lovely. But ultimately, the novel as a whole fails to ignite, remaining an oft-told tale that is disappointingly inert.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Martin Wilson
The Latest in Paper
The Latest in Paper

Jan. 24, 2003

Readings
Goats: A Novel

March 30, 2001

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Lawnboy, Paul Lisicky

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle