cover image Roughhouse


Thaddeus Rutkowski. Kaya Press, $10.95 (165pp) ISBN 978-1-885030-26-9

In clipped, minimalist sentences whose bareness functions as a foil to the shocking information each contains, Rutkowski's narrator, also named Thaddeus, offers up his life in autobiographic, confessional detail. His father--a half-mad, violent Eastern European artist--waves around a deer rifle and talks about becoming a sniper, between cigarettes, beers, bouts of abusiveness and unpredictable mercy. His Chinese mother is subservient, and much-suffering; she buffers herself from the dysfunctional family by quoting Buddhist wisdom, out of context and badly translated. The narrator's sister runs away from home at 14 to escape her father's incestuous sex play. Enduring the ethnic taunts of neighborhood kids who engage in games of torture and sadism, the narrator turns his rage and neurotic guilt inward: he pours hot melted wax on his skin and puts paper bags over his head and sets them on fire. The novel's second half, in which the narrator escapes from his family, goes to college and moves to New York City, plunges him into sex, drugs and sadomasochistic bondage. This part of the book is as undernourishing as the empty life it describes. Rutkowski (Journey to the Center of My Id), poet and story writer, laces his in-your-face punk realism with touches of the surreal and subversive black humor. Sex is emotional karate, social intercourse is toxic and conversation consists mostly of people talking past one another. His sulfuric tale of family breakdown and fetishism chronicles the confusion and opacity of traumatic childhood even as it criticizes the American society that tolerates such inhumanity. 3000 first printing. (May) FYI: Rutkowski, a regular performer on New York's reading circuit, won the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe's Poetry Slam.