Success Not So Sweet
The End of Boys takes no prisoners with its gritty, entrancing realism
Addiction memoirs can be painfully boring. Bad life, drugs, quick happy, bad crash, recovery, happy again forever. It’s the same structure. Every time.
What first grabs you about Peter Brown Hoffmeister’s memoir The End of Boys are the details. The casual mention within the first three paragraphs of the voice the author hears in his head. The intelligent, deliberate description of the taste of a gun barrel. The tactfully worded insecurity he feels about his 5’2” frame at the age of 14. The details come hard, grabbing hold of your brain and refusing to let go.
Hoffmeister doesn’t write like a classic “reformed addict,” but rather like those young kids with the wandering eyes you see wearing hoodies and baseball caps at the bus station. He writes with no self-pity, no psychobabble about the roots of his mental state during whatever period of turmoil he’s currently digging himself out of. The author’s Eugene background is evident in his pacing and delivery (yes, there is indeed a Eugene style of speaking). All together, it makes for a chilling and captivating read.
Hoffmeister gives us the man behind the hoodie — and it’s a doozy of a portrait. His father is depicted as a combination god and fury, trying to make his son succeed even if it kills him. Especially if it kills him. His mother needs personal validation so badly it leads her to both child abuse and European art. His sister loses herself to the conservative Christianity community, alienating her dropout brother even further from the family. All the while, the author’s impossibly charming younger brother jumps off the deep end, seeking redemption from any other source but home.
Hoffmeister rebels against such madness (as expected), but he tells his tale in a voice that is refreshingly new. He is no blind victim but the master of his fate in every situation. Even in times of intoxication, succumbing to abuse, serving sentences of demerits at a private school, there is a Zen-like serenity and acceptance.
Local readers will enjoy the references to Eugene landmarks, such as Allan Bros. Coffee. But, just like Hoffmeister himself, the book travels. We head to Texas, New York and all across the American West. His nomadic, factual voice may have taken shape in Eugene, but it doesn’t stay there.
The battle at the heart of this memoir is a question posed: What is the definition of success? Throughout his life, Hoffmeister is aggressively pushed to succeed. Get good grades. Go to college. Stay clean. Not bolt. Apologize. As a kid, Hoffmeister wanted to be a good, pleasing son. He mourns before going on a drinking binge, “Nobody noticed when I made good decisions.” This is another wonderful characteristic that separates Boys from other troubled-childhood memoirs: The author wants to believe in the possibility of something better. He knows there is hope for the future.
“There is no total transformation, but a slow softening,” Hoffmeister offers in the memoir’s afterward. There’s no ta-da moment of reckoning at the end, no Oedipal killing at the crossroads. Despite all the slings and arrows stinging his soul, unleashed by his own hands or others’, Hoffmeister seeks not to succeed or exceed expectations but simply to live. After all, the classic American Dream of white picket fences and 2.5 kids tends to lose its appeal when it’s been peddled to you since the age of six.