"In Literature as in Life, Ride to Adulthood is Funny Despite the Bumps"
The key to Mike Magnuson's Lummox: The Evolution of a Man is its desire to be greater than itself. An autobiographical novel written in the style of creative nonfiction, Lummox paints a portrait of a journey into manhood during a time in which the nation is redefining what manhood should be.
The novel begins with Magnuson's dismissal from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. The author had been studying music and dreamt of becoming a rock star. He tried to live the prototypical rock star life - the partying, the women, the excess. The only thing missing was the part about actually being a star.
Eventually, the university tires of his antics and expels the wannabe star from its corridors. Mike stumbles around, eventually shacking up in an abandoned elementary school with a few of his buddies, bathing in the stalls of the school bathroom and utilizing a former milk cooler to chill beer kegs for his frequent parties.
Mike eventually takes up with Karen Neilson, a 14-year-old high school freshman who runs away from home and stays with him until her parents finally report her missing and the police endeavor to track her down.
That wouldn't be that bad - a 20-year-old-man man living in an abandoned schoolhouse with an underage high school girl - unless, like Magnuson, your father is the superintendent of schools in Wisconsin. Once the press gets news of Mike's misadventures, it is all over the headlines. Mike's father, completely humiliated and fearing that further incidents will cost him his job, forces his son to leave town and fend for himself in the real world.
And that's just the beginning. Mike drifts around for a while, trying his best to avoid adulthood, which is part of the novel's charm - Magnuson's bizarre justifications for his action, or perhaps, his lack of action.
For example, while examining the wretched remains of beer cans and cigarette butts on the floor of his elementary school adobe, Mike comments that his life is a "trash heap"-like mess in severe need of cleaning. Seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough, Mike ignores this flash of obligation and remains in his state of indifference. "But," he observes, in order to excuse his complete lack of responsibility, "whose life isn't a trash heap?"
Mike next secures a job as a van driver and chaperone for reform school boys. He befriends a 15-year-old thug named Clarence Jeter, who eventually gets Mike fired when he is caught smoking pot at work with the boy. His friendship with Clarence is a significant and touching part of the novel, as it reveals a softer side of Mike, as opposed to the rude, uncouth lout who drinks too much and takes advantage of young girls.
Nonetheless, Magnuson's delivery of all these events is complex and difficult to follow. Using a form almost like stream of consciousness, Magnuson refers to himself in the third person, as if the man he is speaking of is not himself. Some occurrences are unclear and disheveled, especially the later parts of the novel where Mike undergoes hypnotherapy to help shake his alcohol habit and general "slackerness."
Following these disjointed parts is about as easy as following a differential equation. This is a novel about an everyman, but it is not a novel for an everyman. Quite simply, the prose is too convoluted and clouded for the casual reader to appreciate.
After losing his job, Mike begins living with two headstrong feminist lesbians, and recognizes the faults of their extremist lifestyle. While they are certainly not slobs and alcoholics as he is, they are wound too tight and harbor completely closed-minded views of the world. They serve as the sobering presence in Mike's life, and help him strike a balance between the realm of hopeless slacker and self-proclaimed social elitism.
Eventually, Mike learns he cannot continue on his current path forever - he has to straighten himself out. He returns to school, finishes his degree, meets a girl and acquires all the other staples of American life. He becomes what he always believed he despised: a productive human being.
Magnuson's Lummox is a fun but flawed romp through the journey to adulthood. Overly complex but still touching, Magnuson delivers a solid read that any fan of literature will enjoy. But if you're looking for Maxim magazine in novel form, this is not your bag.