Offcourse Literary Journal

Painting Tacoma, a Novel by Michael J. Vaughn, Dead End Street, 2004.
Reviewed by Melissa Byles.


The hobo, the drifter, the free spirit, the hippie, are classic heroes of an old genre, the idyll-U.S.A.-style. Free from the shackles of a career; free to roam widely and to mate no less so; they are free, above all, "to be themselves," which used to mean (until a generation ago) not to be like their parents. For a few years now, there has been a subgenre of that genre, dealing with the children of the older heroes. Most of them are free, too, but not rebellious (just think: who or what could they rebel against?) You might call them drifters-light.

Shawn Turk, the young (the Young Turk?) hero of this novel, does his light drifting in Puget Sound. He's free, and so laid back, such a master of his own juices, that he can be screwing all night long every night for three weeks, and then spend the following three months in complete celibacy without as much as a sigh. Or smoking cigarettes only after making love or after a gig with the blues band. All girls here are the same girl (as it should be in a well-constructed idyll); all boys are the same as well. However, there's a full-figured blues singer, Ivy, modeled (it's only my hunch) on Etta James, and Shawn ends up screwing with her too. As for the eponymous heroine, Tacoma, she's cool, but afflicted with bipolar disease, and that's the "Et in Arcadia ego," the poisonous snake in the grass, always an ingredient of well-constructed idylls. For most of the time, Tacoma manages to negotiate a sane if narrow path between the two poles of her disease, but at the end she crumbles (like the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge), which brings about the parting and the last lines of this book, the two lovers' adieu.

A well-constructed idyll, as I said. Will you enjoy it? Here is a very representative sample, to help you make up your mind:

One afternoon, they were doing it doggie-style, and had managed to position themselves in front of Tacoma's full-length mirror. Shawn was fascinated by how All-American they looked, despite the bestiality of the position. Tacoma met his eyes through their reflection and smiled.



Michael J. Vaughn has contributed poems to Offcourse 15 and 19.



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