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What We’re Reading: Boarded Windows

2012 April 26

What We're ReadingBoarded Windows by Dylan Hicks (Coffee House Press, 2012)

Hmm, how to describe Dylan Hicks’ debut novel, Boarded Windows? Let’s see… well, there’s the dry, self-deprecating humor (which we at Hazel & Wren very much appreciate), a healthy balance of the awkward and poignant, and more music references than I will ever be able to absorb in one sitting. Dylan Hicks, author, freelance writer, and musician, has crafted a novel rich with multi-faceted characters and layer upon layer of the characters’ personal histories. The novel revolves around the relationship between our narrator, who fancies himself an orphan, and his troubled father-figure, the drug-dealing, wandering country musician, Wade Salem. Naturally, this relationship is not that of a typical father-son equation. The story opens with the narrator reminiscing about the time Wade crashed on his couch in Uptown, Minneapolis in the early nineties, and then jumps around between the ’70s and ’90s, reminiscing about the leftover counter-culture movement from the ’70s, of which the narrator’s mother and Wade were part of.

Hicks does things with his plot and narrator which cross lines that most mainstream authors don’t normally cross for whatever reason. Perhaps they feel the novel is sacred, and the characters and story should not be played around with. Hicks, however (along with the majority of more “literary” authors), has a bit of fun with his story. For example, his narrator directly addresses the audience, the story goes back and forth between time periods, and generally tries to confuse us with the memories and time lapses. He even gives characters strikingly similar names (the narrator’s birth mother was Martha Dickson, his adoptive mother, Marleen Deskin, who met over a woman named Marlene Dixon). This playfulness can be tricky to pull off without alienating the reader, but Hicks plays us effortlessly.

One of the (many) notable aspects of Boarded Windows is the main setting: my own sweet home, Minneapolis, MN. This was one of the first novels I’ve read that has been largely set in a location I am completely familiar with. It was a bizarre, insider feeling, being right there with the narrator, nodding my head in recognition when he talked about certain landmarks. It probably shouldn’t have an impact on my perception of the book, but I must admit, a small, proud Minneapolis-REPRESENT part of me really appreciated the familiarity. It’s especially nice when the author is obviously also familiar with the setting, and in knowing so, recreates it with attention to detail and believability. Has that ever happened to you, that you intimately know a setting chosen in a book? Did it affect your reading? How so?

Dylan Hicks is a man of many talents, one of which is a musician. He’s released three albums, and also recorded a companion album to Boarded Windows, called Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene. At first I was a bit apprehensive about this, but after listening through the album, it has just the right mix of super dry, silly humor balanced with well-written music that makes it good listening. The fictional country musician Bolling Greene is referenced throughout the novel, and some of the songs on the album are fictional songs also referenced in the book, while others are just loosely inspired by the book. Finally, it just fits to have this album accompany a novel so steeped in musical history. You can’t read two pages without tripping over another mountain of musical references.

In case you missed it, here’s an interview with Dylan Hicks’ brain, from yesterday.

(Do you live in Minnesota? Do you like literary events? And cotton candy? Then don’t miss Coffee House Press’ Biblio Bash: A Literary Carnival on May 5, at which Dylan Hicks is a featured reader/performer!)


One Response
  1. April 26, 2012

    ah, I’m taking this with me to read on vacation! Can’t wait! I will be writing a review later, too, so not going to read yours now, Wren, nope.
    But I will read the interview! 😉 Maybe I can link to it from my story…
    And I’m severely bummed that I will miss Biblio Bash. Sounds like a blast!
    This guy’s getting all the buzz. Can’t wait to listen to the CD, too – on our way through Iowa – perfect!

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