A Masque of Infamy, Kelly Dessaint, 307 Pages, Phony Lid Books, www.phonylid.com, $14.00
On the surface, Louis is just another 15-year-old punk listening to metal and raising a middle finger to authority. But after he and his little brother Joey move with their dad and family friend Rick from Los Angeles to Saks, Alabama following their parents’ divorce, his rebellion is revealed to be completely justified and arguably saves him from years of certain trauma.
Joey isn’t so lucky. But when Louis attempts to rescue his brother from adults behaving badly, the confused bureaucracy of Alabama’s child welfare system separates the two and commits Louis to a mental institution. It’s then up to him to bide his time and work the system to his advantage, so that maybe he can get to Joey and live out their dream of becoming punk rockers.
Author Kelly Dessaint — best known for his zine Piltdownland — has said in interviews that the plot of his debut novel is semi-autobiographical, with names replaced with pseudonyms. He’s successfully rendered a story of an abusive childhood into a fearless story of teenage rebellion. Louis ideologically resists Rick’s iron fist of discipline and the pressure to name Jesus his Lord and Saviour in the heart of the southern Bible Belt, but then the narrative takes a dark turn that turns the relationship dynamic on its head. You won’t see it coming.
Even with the twists, Masque is greatly relatable. Everyone remembers being a teen trying desperately to assert your identity in a homogenized world, and feeling like adults simply don’t give a shit about you. It’s easy to cheer for Kelly/ Louis all the way. Besides, for much of the story he seems to be the only sane person in a world of insanity, in spite of his age.
However, there’s a problem. As the story builds to its conclusion, it looks as though Louis is going to get everything he wants, but everything the story has been building to the entire book never gets resolved. It’s a bit of a letdown. The author seems noncommittal at times, swerving from our perceived expectations not for the sake of plot, but because he simply doesn’t seem to want to write anymore. Cliffhanger endings are great, but this isn’t one. It seems to be left ambiguous not in service of the plot, but because the author has run out of room. (Aaron Broverman)