Bombastic and Desirous: A Review of Amorak Huey's BOOM BOX
If you could make a playlist for the most important years of your life, what would be on it?
In Boom Box, released by Sundress Publications earlier this year, Amorak Huey answers just that question. Yes, Mötley Crüe and Whitesnake make an appearance, but so do tornado sirens and false professions of faith, each one lending particular notes to burgeoning manhood in small town America. Throughout the collection, Huey’s voice crackles, giving readers a sense of longing, hunger, and rage that is unique to the adolescent experience. His world is one where young people desire things as openly as they reject them, as openly as they fear rejection themselves. Boom Box’s greatest triumph, however, is not just its portraiture of adolescence, but the way in which it captures the capriciousness of each specific longing. Every individual hurt Huey’s speakers undergo is the most devastating; each want is the most urgent they’ve ever experienced, and we as readers believe them just as readily as we believe when they’re cast aside in favor of the next great love, the next great hurt.
“Boom Box,” the collection’s title piece, is the most stirring example of this particular brand of tenacious longing. In this case, the longing is not for a place, a person, or a heavy guitar lick, but for understanding, for a compelling narrative whose pieces don’t quite fall into place.
. . . I can make
anyone believe anything. Maybe
my father hits me. Maybe the war
changed him, though I never knew him before,
so what do I know?
Through the invocation of maybe as chorus, the speaker makes and unmakes reality by turns, leaving both reader and speaker on the same unsteady ground. The effect is stirring, an anxiety that builds in the chest that only releases with the boom box’s pounding basslines in the poem’s closing image.
While many of the pieces in this collection seem to take on small town masculine adolescence, Huey has woven several different speakers throughout its 75 pages. The result is a hum of voices that feels less like a Greek chorus and more like the claustrophobic racket of cicadas on a hot summer evening in Boom Box’s Trussville, Alabama. These voices bump and grind against one another, each with interlocking desires and fears worn with the same brazenness. As “Seven Postcards from Trussville, Alabama” mentions, you can never be sure who is listening in a small town. Each of the poem’s seven parts telegraphs the particular interconnectedness of this life in images of a hill just beyond the town, of honors students on the bank of a river dreaming of what might lie beyond this place where secrets are carried on the wind.
In this way, Trussville is as much a character as any of Huey’s bombastic, desirous adolescents. We see its mercurial shifting in flood or tornado season, and the ways in which its inhabitants brace for—and recover from—each disaster. But just like the rest of its characters are woven into one larger narrative, Trussville and its surrounding areas are inextricably linked to its inhabitants. Nowhere is this more poignant than when a flood in Cahaba River serves as the last tether in a marriage, despite the interminable game of Monopoly that endeavors to hold things together once properties have been divided and husband and wife have gone their separate ways.
In the end, Boom Box not only crystallizes Gen-X adolescence, but makes it accessible to future generations of readers. Its nostalgia serves not just to remind its audience of a time that’s passed, but to invite them in. Through his deft weaving of sound, image, and urgency, Huey shows us that the while the markers of longing may change from generation to generation, the heat behind them remains as timeless as ever.
Boom Box is available from Sundress Publications. Preview “The Older Brother’s Guide to Cheating at Monopoly” and “Boom Box” on the blog. Stay tuned for our upcoming interview with Amorak Huey on Boom Box's creation, small town living, and the perfect playlist to accompany the collection.
— Review by Jacqueline Boucher