Craig Machen is a bad boy, or was a bad boy (if you can ever really shake that persona). It’s not entirely his fault, though. Rather, it is a result of a series of unfortunate life circumstances that led him to be self-destructive. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and strippers. ‘Still Life With Brass Pole’ has it all- in excess. It is a drug and alcohol-induced road trip on which Machen takes the reader in this coming-of-age memoir.
It is a well written, at times funny, at times heartbreaking story of a boy thrown into an adult world far too early. Machen has created an honest narrative without romanticizing parts in order to make himself look better. He tells us about his drug and alcohol abuse, and less than reputable lifestyle brought on by abuse and neglect in his childhood. However, this is never an excuse, as he points out that he knows he did not make the best decisions at times.
Machen examines the life of those involved in strip clubs and what generally leads them there. It is a way of gaining acceptance and control in a life that has never offered such before. As he deconstructs the sex industry, is becomes apparent that he knows his place within it and that he never really accepts it. He notes of men and women in the industry, “[…] most of us wouldn’t have come this way if things had been different.” His fascination and attraction to strippers is a result of what quickly becomes an apparent need to save the damsels in distress so he can postpone focusing on his own needs a bit longer.
The one thing that seems to pull the author out of his downward spiral is his interest in bodybuilding. He works so hard on his body and musters up enough focus to win Mr. Teen Arizona, which becomes his crowning achievement. During the times that bodybuilding is his main focus, he is able to give up drugs and alcohol, only to become reliant on steroids. As notice for his impressive physique grows, so does his pride in knowing that he created it with his own determination, and issues of his views of masculinity begin to surface.
Machen’s search for love, acceptance, and identity merge together when he meets one woman that makes it all seem worth it. She is the one female in his life that does not need him to save her, rather she holds him up as he learns how to save himself. As he learns who he is and wants to become, she is there to support him through the bumpy ride. It is the first time in his life that he seems to feel true acceptance and what a healthy relationship really is.
‘Still Life With Brass Pole’ is a story of falling down and getting back up- repeatedly. He delves into many themes and looks beneath the surface of the lives of those involved in addiction, strip clubs, bodybuilding, adoption, and the cycle of abuse. In this dynamic tale of exploration, Machen weaves his way through binges, strip clubs, and girls that need saving- at least, he wants to try to save them. What he finally discovers is that he is the one that needs saving, and only he can save himself.
[This review is also published at LLBook Review. For more great indie reviews, check them out.]
For more about the author and this book, visit his website.