Joshua Mohr’s stunning debut novel explores the life of its central figure, a man called Rhonda. I read the entire novel knowing that Rhonda was suffering from ‘depersonalization’, but didn’t know what that meant medically. By the end I thought I had figured out what that malady was – a psychological affliction that was the result of Rhonda’s extremely warped upbringing at the hands of his alcoholic mother and her abusive boyfriend, Letch.
The psychological aspects of this novel ring true to the point where one suspects Mohr may actually have suffered from depersonalization himself at one point in his life. The reflection of the psychological sessions on Rhonda’s life is done authentically and allows the reader to learn more about Rhonda via a combination of his childhood as told to his psychologist, commingled with Rhonda’s disjointed present-day experiences. Mohr’s prose deftly transports the reader into Rhonda’s twisted persona, and we’re left to divine the meaning behind little-Rhonda and old-woman-Rhonda. No answers are given by the end of the novel, and that’s the way that it should be for Rhonda’s story.
The publisher, Two Dollar Radio prides itself on finding unconventional (but good) books that are then published as paperback originals. Just a few months ago, this family operation moved its home base to Columbus, Ohio. I look forward to reading some of their other books, especially those by Mohr, if they all live up to the standard set by Mohr’s debut. I stalked Two Dollar Radio’s website for a couple of years, especially after finding it via the links section of Maud Newton’s blog, but didn’t really know which book to take the plunge in on. Reviews were scarce on the actual books themselves, but across the blogverse, I could only find laudatory comments for Two Dollar Radio itself. So when the ‘personalized recommendation’ option became available on their website, I couldn’t resist and sent in an email.
To my rather pleasant surprise, I received an email back from Eric Obenauf (editor in chief) commending me for my obscure pop culture selections (he had never heard of two of my favorite movies – Stalker(1979) and Primer (2004)). I got my list of recommendations, and based on that list, I decided to order the ‘Year 3 subscription’ as it contained three of the recommended books on my list. All of the books look great, and while I provided the Amazon link for this book – you would be vastly better off ordering directly from Two Dollar Radio. They have subscriptions for each year they’ve printed books in, and $50 for five high-quality paperbacks (including shipping) is a far better deal than you’d be able to find elsewhere. They’ve also been running some recent sales such as a ‘Santa Fucked Up’ sale (any 2 books for $15, any 4 for $30 – the sale has already expired). In short, you can usually score just about any book you want for $10 each (including shipping).
Back to Some Things That Meant the World to Me – one of my only complaints is that the pigeons depicted in the Rorschach blot on the cover is from an incredibly specific scene within the book. That scene was only a page out of the entire novel and I would have much preferred to have seen sidewinders depicted on the cover instead. The sidewinders would have been a much better reflection on the novel as a whole, although the Rorschach blot image itself was the right concept to use. (Two Dollar Radio contracts out its cover artwork, so I’m really just niggling here.)
Rhonda turns out to be an unforgettable and sympathetic protagonist due to the warped and twisted nature of his experiences. But the novel itself is a looping surreal existence that couldn’t have been pulled off by an author with less literary talent, and for this to be Mohr’s debut novel must give several authors literary envy. The only other author in recent memory that I recall having comparable verbose virtuosity in their debut novels are Karen Russell (Swamplandia!) and possibly Téa Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife), which I have yet to complete. Frankly, I kept hoping for the story to continue past its slim 205 pages since Eric Obenauf recommended this novel based on my love for Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (1991, I’ll review it someday). There are indeed some elements comparable to Sophie’s World in Some Things That Meant the World to Me, but it’s not a direct comparison – although if you enjoyed Sophie’s World, and don’t mind some dark material, you’ll enjoy this novel.
Overall Grade: A
Edition: Two Dollar Radio (June, 2009)
Binding: Perfect-bound paperback
Page Count: 205
Original Language: English
Other Notes: Paperback original