Does Heaven know you're miserable now? It’s 1987. Sam Henry Hay, a 17-year-old exchange student from Sheffield, hops into Texas, USA, with one burning ambition: Manipulate his gullible host parents into funding his university, and leave his dead-end life in Yorkshire behind. But is Sam manipulating America or America manipulating Sam? The clever lad schmoozes his way into many a bed and purse, yet can’t get rid of anyone. He executes careful plans, only to watch them disastrously fall apart. Worst of all, this once proud nihilist watches in horror as he reveals a conscience, in a world growing ever darker around him. Days of Throbbing Gristle is not your typical teenage tale. It’s a razor-slashing journey through a time and place that really was as bad as you’ve heard. For some, high school is the best time in their lives. For others, it’s a miracle they make it to the other side.
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An intense and enjoyably modern coming of age story
This long and enjoyable novel is about Samuel Henry Hays, a very troubled English teen who heads to America in the tail-end of the 1980s in an attempt to escape his poverty-stricken life in England. It's a coming of age story of a young manipulative boy who, through his failed attempts at maturity, his successful awakenings, his struggles of will power and domination by more powerful figures in his life, along with various fun and dangerous escapades, slowly becomes a young, more stable adult. This is no short fiction first novel; Mr Cole takes you through a year in the life of Hays as he attends high school in Texas as an exchange student. While the story is an immersive experience for readers, catching all the double entendres, musical and literary allusions is part of the tapestry of the story itself. (I hadn't even heard of the band Days of Throbbing Gristle before reading this book...)
After being in Sam's head all through the book, I found myself wanting a normal life for the protagonist, Samuel Hays. I recognized early on this was no fairy tale, assuredly, but wanted things to "work out" for the characters (they "deserved" it somehow). An American Happy Ending. Without giving anything away, I will say this intense roll coaster book will flip and turn the story and change, sometimes subtly, sometimes abruptly, your expectations of what is going to happen next. And it all fits together. Mr Cole does a phenomenal job of keeping the story on the same POV since the very opening scene, of evolving the characters while building the momentum and ensuring the story successfully sets up the next turn of events.
The book toys with the reader as much as or more than the characters toy with each other (expectations, assumptions and emotions). You'll cringe at things the young Sam Hays says and does, you'll laugh at his wit and perhaps you'll recognize your high school years in the "literary" notes passed between the characters as they quote really bad music lyrics with the passion only teenagers can truly feel with such terrible drama and narcissism.
This is the story of a young but already world-weary prat with venomous attitude wrapped around and inside him as a protective shield against a world he's come to know as uncaring and antagonistically ambivalent. And the moment that finally opens and the crack in that shield seems ready to open... well, read it yourself and find out.
I was very impressed by this book as a first novel. It captures the turbulent mindset of teens while offering some really tight, well-written and even quotable prose. I look forward to reading more from Mr Cole and recommend this book to anyone who wants to get fully immersed in a story.