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Lawn Boy

Review

Lawn Boy

Meet Mike Muñoz, the protagonist and narrator of Jonathan Evison’s latest novel, LAWN BOY. Mike wasn’t even born with a plastic spoon in his mouth, much less a silver one. He lives with his mom, his special needs brother, Nate, and his mom’s newest boyfriend, Freddy, on the res in Suquamish. “And no, in case you’re wondering, you don’t have to be an Indian to live on the res. Apparently, all you need is a bunch of broken sh-- in your yard.” Mike is used to being disappointed, expects it, even. Does this date back to the time when he was six and his fed-up father drove him down to the Bremerton Shipyard under the auspices of taking him to Disneyland? (His dad decamped shortly thereafter.)

At 23, Mike’s wants and needs are few: a better landscaping job, a tallboy or two, a date with Remy, a waitress at Mitzel’s. Suquamish lies just across the bridge from Bainbridge Island, a wealthy mecca for landscaping crews. Mike is acutely aware of the class differences between him, a half-Mexican laborer, and the scion of those McMansions on the island where he edges lawns, trims bushes and picks up dog poop. But in the beginning, he doesn’t seem particularly resentful. It’s just the way things are.

"With short chapters and very clever dialogue, LAWN BOY is an entertaining read, with a few surprises up its sleeve."

His lawn mower is stolen. His truck breaks down. He gets fired. He briefly makes some decent money with an entrepreneur named Chaz who exhorts him to think big. He loses money at the casino. He reconnects with Doug Goble, a childhood friend who has launched himself out of the res and into a flashy real estate career. He has a few dates with Remy. He reads books and makes friends with Andrew, the librarian, who organizes protests against puppy mills and convinces him to come along. He dreams about writing the Great American Landscaping Novel. And finally, when his friend Nick gets him a job at Les Schwab, he has learned enough about himself to turn it down.

“‘I’m tired of doing things I don’t want to do. I’ve gotta start doing things I don’t hate.’

Again, incredulous silence, followed by the slightest of gasps. ‘What the hell happened to you, dude? You sound like you’re from Bainbridge.’”

Like much of Evison’s work, some heady issues (class, poverty, sexuality) are leavened with a broad layer of nearly slapstick comedy, and for me the comedy is the strongest part of the book. Like when Mike desperately agrees to let Freddy pull his aching tooth --- and Freddy pulls the wrong one. Presumably this novel is written by Mike sometime after the facts presented, and the voice overall is clever and self-effacing, which pulls the punch from a passage like this: “After all, most of us are mowing someone else’s lawn, one way or another, and most of us can’t afford to travel the world or live in New York City. Most of us feel like the world is giving us a big fat middle finger when it’s not kicking us in the face with a steel-toed boot. And most of us feel powerless. Motivated but powerless. Entertained but powerless. Informed but powerless. Fleetingly content, most of the time broke, sometimes hopeful, but ultimately powerless. And angry. Don’t forget angry.” I never felt that anger in Mike, but I liked him and wanted him to succeed.

As Mike finds his way and even finds a client who will let him turn his yard into a topiary fantasy land, we are happy for him. With short chapters and very clever dialogue, LAWN BOY is an entertaining read, with a few surprises up its sleeve.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on April 6, 2018

Lawn Boy
by Jonathan Evison

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1616202629
  • ISBN-13: 9781616202620