Verdict: Unlike many coming-of-age stories, CHIPPED BLACK NAIL POLISH looks back on the hazy days of youth without overdosing on the romanticizing of days gone by, and instead offers a healthy dose of raw, retrospective honesty.
CHIPPED BLACK NAIL POLISH drops us into the mind of the angst-ridden Nicholas, who gets caught up in the whirlwind of an older woman and lands deep in the heart of 1989 counterculture, where the chief exports are sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Most of us come of age, usually with a slow drip of responsibilities and harsh realities—and are ultimately weaned off childhood like it’s an addiction. Nicholas Tanek, on the other hand, comes at age. During a routine album round-up at the record store, Nicholas stumbles into the madcap life of Kim, a seductive free-spirit with a chipped past. Understandably, Nicholas falls for her and everything she represents—or maybe everything she doesn’t represent—and his life becomes a series of mosh pits, LSD ramblings and identity theft.
Nicholas Tanek—the author, not the character—creates a sure sense of place and time. This is a world where your t-shirt is a flag, and the band that decorates it is a symbol of where your loyalties lie. To set the mood further, Tanek repeatedly informs the reader that a particular song is playing, which is initially fun but becomes distracting quick, as those of us who walk around in Tom Waits t-shirts aren’t getting much out of the sentence: “’Looking Glass Girl’ from the album Blue Sunshine by The Glove played.”
They say you should write what you know, and Tanek seems to have taken that to heart. Much of the book reads like a slightly ajar diary—one that you catch with the corner of your eye and think “eh, nobody’ll know.” There’s an episodic nature to the story, as the chapters are split into separate, loosely connected events rather than one flowing narrative. Naturally, this creates an environment where certain sections stand out and others fall away, but the writing is consistently direct, honest and without pretense, which goes a long way. The best example of this is in the chapter entitled, “homemade straight jacket,” which begins with “I am a weirdo” and ends with a masturbation session that would make Houdini proud.
Of course, the crux of the book is the relationship between Nicholas and Kim. At Nicholas’ age of 14, a two-year age gap is an eternity, which makes Kim this otherworldly figure of maturity and bohemian grace. Wisely, it’s never made totally clear whether Kim keeps Nicholas around as a lover, an apprentice in the scamp-arts or as some kind of court jester. I only wish the trope of the kid taken under the wing of the slightly older kid wasn’t so prevalent, or the gaggle of offbeat buddies who teach Nicholas that there’s a wide chasm between weird and wrong—nothing new for this genre. Things being as they are, there is a macho lesbian named Di, who wields a chain like a C-list superhero, so that’s something.
Firmly rooted in its setting and proud of it, CHIPPED BLACK NAIL POLISH paints an authentic picture of puppy love, as well as the no man’s land between childhood and adulthood. But, the book’s themes and characters lack the very freak-flag waving originality that it celebrates.
~Hunter Lanier for IndieReader