Monday, January 17, 2011

Lost Lustre by Josh Karlen

Lost Lustre by Josh Karlen is described as a New York memoir and includes several sections each of which describes a particular portion of Karlen's life and how it was growing up in New York City during the 70s and 80s. Karlen and his brother moved to Alphabet City with their mother after their parents divorced, in a time when the area was full of crumbling buildings that would not be out of place is a post-apocalyptic film. However the story left me wondering- if Avenue C was really so awful, then why didn't Karlen's father who took his sons every weekend over to his safe and happy home fight for custody, or even mention to their mother that he didn't like where they were living? Karlen and his brother are so out of place in where they live, and their mother's decision to move there so odd, that I wish the book had better tried to explain why his mother thought it was a good idea besides for a vague belief that the area would gentrify. Also, the word "gentrify" is so incredibly over-used if I read it again in the next few months I am liable to put a book down for that reason alone.

Each portion of Lost Lustre is connected only by the fact that they all involve some aspect of Karlen's life, which makes the book read more like a collection of essays than something that could truly be described as a memoir. In addition, when an author is writing a memoir paramount to its success is the ability to make the reader actually care about the outcome, and the unfortunate truth was that I was completely bored and unsympathetic to Karlen especially when he manages to wallow in self-pity for much of the book for various reasons, including the fact that he was mugged a few times and that his first love dumped him without explanation. The one redeeming chapter of Lost Lustre is the one after which the book is actually titled, and it describes the life, and premature death, of Karlen's highschool friend who was the lead singer of a band called the Lustres and died at 28 from alcoholism. It is in this portion of the book Karlen excels by capturing the spirit of the eighties and the tragedy of  potential destroyed by addiction. Interestingly enough, it is also the one portion of the book which is not directly about him. Ultimately, although I didn't personally get a lot out of Lost Lustre, I would sincerely recommend it to people who are interested in the history of New York, especially the seventies and eighties, as I do feel like Karlen gave a genuine sense of the time period and place.

Release Date: October 2010
Pages: 310
Overall: 2/5
Source: Publisher
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