Snapshots of the Boy – Shaun Levin (Treehouse Press)

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I have been a fan of Shaun Levin’s ever since I first heard him read from Seven Sweet Things at Saints and Sinners in New Orleans. Husky with emotion, his voice broke and tears came to his eyes as he read a breakup scene. I hurried to the book table,bought the last remaining copy and hurried back so he could sign it. And then I cried, reading it on the plane home.

Snapshots of the Boy is no less beautiful, if scandalously short – sixteen photographs and sixteen lyrical reminiscences on his youth. Thirty-two pages in all. But Levin, who edits the excellent Chroma journal (see the link to the right), does more with those thirty-two pages than some authors can do with tenfold that. I must admit to a bit of chagrin when I saw the brevity of the book; however, this material is dense and delicious and the package as a whole is artisanal, like a beautiful loaf of home-made onion-rye bread baked especially for the reader.

His reminiscences are so intimate and personal, I felt as if he was writing just to me as well – especially the teenage lust of “The Boy Discovers Playgirl” and the tenacious practicality of the boy in “The Boy and His Bucket.” But nowhere does Levin getmore personal than in “Things They Said to the Boy,” an unpunctuated string of childhood invective that we all remember better than we’d like to admit:

“…you’re such a moffie a sissy a faggot you girl you weakling you loser

you have no right to exist aren’t you ashamed aren’t you embarrassed

sweetheart angel the way you behave you’re an embarrassment I pity you

I feel sorry for you stop clinging stop begging stop looking at me like that

how many times do I have to tell you to fuck off get lost go away scram

vamoose take a disprin and dissolve we don’t anyone like you here go away …”

When you look opposite this barrage of bitterness, you see a happy, chubby boy with dirty feet, glasses and a smile as he plays in the  dappled sunshine and shade of a young tree – by himself. If this doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, you’ve never been through anything like it. And you can count yourself lucky.

But not all Levin’s chapters are as stark as this – they’re  funny, they’re both sexual and sensual, they’re obscure, they’re universal and they’re totally his. And ours. Levin’s style is candid simplicity itself, unadorned by showy similes in favor of direct beauty. It’s writing from the heart, not the head and it strikes you where it originates. Snapshots of the Boy is a wholly original exploration of one man’s life as seen through sixteen moments frozen on film. Once you’ve finished it, you’ll be starting it over again to catch what you’re sure to have missed.

And you’ll be just as amazed the second time. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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