Trouble with Girls
by Marshall Boswell
Algonquin Books, 306 pp., $22.95
When you are a child growing up it often seems that adults have all the fun. We look at them in awe as they navigate so bravely through the world; we envy them as they make decisions about what to wear and what to eat. We too can't wait to be grown up.
But first we need to muddle through that long period of change where everything matters and nothing happens; the world seems either incredibly mean or totally apathetic, and we are all trying to figure out how to be cool, how to define ourselves, and what we are going to do in the far-off future. In other words: adolescence. That time between say, 12, to oh, I don't know, let's say our mid-20s, is a sort of emotional battlefield; a virtual no-man's-land. It is our job to get through that time the best we can, with the least amount of damage and scars, to crawl from the wreckage of childhood and proudly enter the world of adulthood.
In Trouble with Girls, Marshall Boswell chronicles the journey of Parker Hayes as he dog-paddles his way through the murky swamp on the way to manhood. When we first meet Parker, he is almost 13, stranded in right field, his head full of dreams, pondering the mysteries of the universe. Screaming into his revelry intrudes a baseball with the word "reality" stamped all over it. Parker learns it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you are ready.
However he really doesn't absorb this lesson, and as Santayana remarked: " those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." And he does. Time and again, Parker stumbles through the world like an ill-equipped student fumbling for the correct answer.
He experiences the hits and misses of early love, the struggle with commitment, the nagging feeling of discontentment with a current girlfriend; all the while getting older and wondering just what the hell is he supposed to do or be. Many of us can totally identify with Parker as he tries to make sense of the exotic mysteries of the opposite sex.
Several of the stories in Boswell's collection hit a certain emotional chord. The story entitled "New Wave" deals with the questions of identity and appearance. Parker is in high school when two brash new students show up at his small Texas town sporting a punk style of dress. He feels isolated from his peers and the sight of these two "outsiders" challenges his conception of how a person should act and dress. Parker is caught between the lines, debating whether he should be a conformist or strike out and embrace a new way of life. After being attracted to the punkish Tonya, he finally realizes that something much more valuable is right in front of him.
In "Grub Worm" Parker obsessively thinks about Joyce, a girlfriend he recently dumped. He torments himself: "This is all I do: I script, I imagine, I dwell. Even at work, even on the phone, even out with a friend, I can hear the undercurrent of my resentment gurgling within me like sewage in a pipe." After a trip to Walgreen's, his object of affection appears before him like a deadly jinn, and every argument against hooking up with Joyce vanishes like early morning fog. Anyone who has felt the pain and loneliness of being dumped will relate all too knowingly with Parker as he drags his broken heart around.
By the last story, "Spanish Omens," a grown-up Parker is married and on his honeymoon in Spain, where he learns a hard lesson about rental cars and responsibility. Boswell does a great job in presenting all the highlights--and the many low points in the life of Parker Hayes. The last paragraph of the book presents us with a final image of Parker, older, more settled, but still open to the myriad of possibilities in the world. Trouble With Girls is a great introduction to Marshall Boswell, an author that has a keen understanding of the war between the sexes.