The Bookworm Sez

‘Mean Boys: A Personal History’ by Geoffrey Mak

c.2024, Bloomsbury, $28.99, 267 pages

This and that.

It’s how a pleasant conversation is fed, with give and take, back and forth, wandering casually and naturally, a bit of one subject easing into the next with no preamble. It’s communication you can enjoy, like what you’ll find inside “Mean Boys” by Geoffrey Mak.

Sometimes, a conversation ends up exactly where it started.

Take, for instance, Shakespeare’s King Lear, which leads Mak to think about his life and his inability to “cull the appropriate narratives out of nonsense…” Part of that problem, he says, was that his living arrangements weren’t consistent. He sometimes “never really knew where I was living,” whether it was Berlin or California, in a studio or high-end accommodations. The parties, the jokes, and the internet consumption were as varied as the homes, and sometimes, “it didn’t really matter.” Sometimes, you have to accept things and just “move on.”

When he was twelve years old, Mak’s father left his corporate job, saying that he was “called by God” to become a minister. It created a lot of resentment for Mak, for the lack of respect his father got, and because his parents were “passionately anti-gay…”  He moved as far away from home as he could, and he blocked all communication with his parents for years until he realized that “By hating my father, I ended up hating myself, too…”

And then there was club life which, in Mak’s descriptions, doesn’t sound much different in Berghain (Germany) as it is in New York. He says he “threw myself into night life,” in New York Houses, in places that gave “a skinny Chinese kid from the suburbs… rules I still live by,” on random dance floors, and in Pornceptual. Eventually, this, drugs, work, politics, pandemic, basically everything, and life in general led to a mental crisis, and Mak sought help.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Mak says at one point. “Sometimes life was bad, and sometimes it wasn’t, and sometimes it just was.”

Though there are times when this book feels like having a heart-to-heart with an interesting new acquaintance, “Mean Boys” can make you squirm. For sure, it’s not a beachy read or something you’ll breeze through on a weekend.

No, author Geoffrey Mak jumps from one random topic to another with enough frequency to make you pay super close attention to his words, lest you miss something. That won’t leave you whiplashed; instead, you’re pulled into the often-dissipated melee just enough to feel almost involved with it – but with a distinct sense that you’re being held at arms’ length, too. That some stories have no definitive timeline or geographical stamp – making it hard to find solid ground – also adds to the slight loss of equilibrium here, like walking on slippery river rock.

Surprisingly, that’s not entirely unpleasant, but readers will want to know that the ending in “Mean Boys” could leave their heads swirling with a dozen thoughts on life, belonging, and death. If you like depth in your memoirs, you’ll like that… and this.

Terri Schlichenmeyer

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a prairie in Wisconsin with two dogs, one man, and 17,000 books. Her new book, The Big Book of Facts, is now at bookstores and at Kings English by clicking here: https://www.kingsenglish.com/book/9781578597208

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