Check out the debut coming-of-age novel that Gauraa Shekhar of Maudlin House says “occupies an important space in the psyche of American fiction,” with prose author Zach MacDonald calls “eye-opening and powerful” and says “showed the mind of a true humanist at work.”
Available here through IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and more, both paperback and ebook.
Spanning the late 90s to the 2010s, HERE’S WALDO is a sprawling, tragicomic novel that tracks the story of Waldo Collins, a nerdy kid born in a torn-up town in the shadow of Chicago–unincorporated Des Plaines, IL. It’s a story about what it was like to come of age as the new millennium dawned with all its irrevocable changes. A story about the family bonds we’re born with and those we create along the way, and about using humor to find light in the dark. About generational trauma and the continuation (or completion) of cycles of violence. It’s here we follow Waldo from age eight to twenty-four as he figures out his place in the world, leaves his hometown to become a writer, and ultimately comes back to face everything (and everyone) he left behind. Here’s a story of loss, love, grief, guilt, and a search for meaning. Here’s Waldo.
So here’s a kid–eleven and going on precocious, glasses on his nose so thick coke bottles wouldn’t even do them justice, a dusty old Dostoyevsky in his hands as he sits in a comfy library chair and downloads the text to his brain.
But let’s get you acquainted. For starters, kid can read. Routinely fells the sort of dense history book you’d need a machete to hack through before lunch. Does shit like assign himself book reviews (which he then critiques and grades as if he were a teacher). Actually has his local librarian on speed dial.
But in time, like any copiously fed addiction, kid’s word tolerance reached a breaking point. It wasn’t enough that he devoured books as he was apt to do to food (which being an overweight and nerdy little boy, you can just imagine the crowds of schoolmates clamoring to be his friends). No, he needed to craft them, too. Had to feel the Zen-like focus that accompanied moments of writerly Flow, experience the bitter frustration of The Block, too.
And so he set his Dostoyevsky down beside his composition book, the puny thing’s TV-static-looking cover trying its damndest to fight against the pull of old Fyodor’s work. And on any other day it would lose the battle. But this day was different. This day, our kid was determined.
Kid was very clearly of the Dump Shit Out First, Sift Through the Rubble Later variety, or at least his ridiculously-quickly-filled comp book attested to that fact. Could almost see smoke billowing out from his carpaloid hand, feel the heat coming off of the page and his brain both as he let the Hand Cramp to End All Hand Cramps subside.
The days (and notebooks) that followed passed in an absolute flurry, our little dude making dutiful pilgrimage to his library Mecca each and every day and engaging in what was quickly revealing itself to be the often masochistic practice of making shit up in story form.
Still took crap from those in his class whose IQ values were comparable with their shoe sizes. Heard them riff on the usual, easy subjects: his weight, the fact that he couldn’t deftly kick balls that needed to be kicked or throw balls that needed to be thrown. But he let it all slide off now that he had his stories. His words.
Librarian set him up with a desk all his own, even took to bringing over a brand-spanking-new OED and pocket thesaurus. Things were going well.
Very well, that is, until the little shits caught on to what our dude was doing during his free time away from the clutches of a well-rounded public school education.
Led daring raids into his literary stronghold and shot volleys of whispered insults whenever the librarian wasn’t in earshot. Played keep away with his books of reference and shot spitballs into his hair at precisely the moment he’d seem to be on a roll.
But for all their efforts at sabotage, they only strengthened our kid’s resolve. Even helped him with a problem his writing had suffered with: a lack of active characters. Now that the Douche Brigade had begun their attacks, dude had no problem dreaming up characters who fought their oppressors with a vengeance. Good luck translating that into real life action, though.
The tormenting went on (and intensified, as prepubescent struggles tend to do), until our budding literary star couldn’t get diddly done for all the interference he had to put up with. But he took it all with the sort of (im)patience that comes with putting up with a lot of crap for a long time.
He put up with it, that is, until they stole his comp books.
There grew in our bookish hero a bubbling rage the likes of which our shoe-size-IQed tormentors clearly didn’t see coming. A rage that’d normally be ineffectual in the hands of Dude, but now came out in the sort of outburst that’d make old Fyodor proud.
Channeled every strong character he’d previously conjured, let the Brigade have it and socked the Ringleader (the one who’d stolen his books, naturally) right in the mouth.
The books hit the floor, as did the collective jaws of the assembled crew. There passed a moment where the Ringleader massaged his jaw and his ego both, sizing up our dude in the process. Waiting. Watching. But something in the kid’s crazy, determined eyes scared him off. Cloaked behind the vague threat of a future retaliatory attack, the Ringleader made his leave with the rest of the Brigade.
And so our chubby little bookworm gathered his stack of comp books and laid them next to his Dostoyevsky, the stacked TV static covers now looming over that dusty old volume even if they were a little dog-eared and worse for wear.
Sat down at his desk and gathered his writing instruments as the magnitude of what he’d done finally caught up with him.
Was about to get started again when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye–or rather, someone. The librarian gave him a quick, conspiratorial wink–blink and you’d miss it–and then let him get back to work.
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE
“You come here often?”
“Uh, yeah. That’s kind of necessary when you work at a place.”
“Oh, I’m… Didn’t see your nametag. Melissa, huh?”
“That’s what my parents named me.”
“I’m Jay. Look, I… We didn’t get off to a good start. I’m not a creep. I mean, I read and everything. See? You read this one before?”
“It was assigned to me freshman year, yes.”
“Such a good book. Harold Caulfield was a great protagonist.”
“Never mind. Sorry, but I’ve got to get back to work.”
“Oh, uh, yeah. Okay.”
“Oh, it’s… It’s you.”
“You seem pleased to see me again.”
“Just finished this one. Really heavy stuff. Please tell me you’ve read it.”
“Required reading when I was a sophomore. At least we’re getting closer.”
“Tell me it’s not the best damn dystopia you’ve read.”
“I would be impressed by your proper use of the term dystopia if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that you googled it like point five seconds before walking in the store.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“Hey, at least I’m honest. I read it, though, for real! Umm… ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree / I sold you and you sold me. / There lie they, and here lie we / Under the spreading chestnut tree.’ Come on… don’t walk away. You know that was impressive.”
HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD
“Wait wait wait. Before you storm off and alphabetize, I simply need to know whether you’ve read this one or not.”
“You like him?”
“He’s one of my favorite magical realists, actually. Not bad. More on the obscure side, too.”
“Meh. That old aphorism about broken timepieces periodically being correct comes to mind.”
“One of my favorite aspects of the book was the use of the present tense in the ‘End of the World’ section. I think that was the right call on the translator’s part, since the formal and informal versions of ‘you’, watashi and boku, don’t necessarily translate too well from the Japanese.”
“I can’t believe I’m actually agreeing with you, but yeah. Alfred Birnbaum is the only person I trust with translating Murakami’s work. I mean, 1Q84 wasn’t bad, but Jay Rubin didn’t give it the same linguistic flair that Birnbaum did this one.”
“1Q84? You mean 1984, right? That was last week’s read. Get with the program, Melissa.”
“Missed it by that much. Should’ve quit while you were still ahead.”
“Look, it’s my lunch break and I’d like to spend it lunching. Shoo.”
A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
“You’ve got a thing for dystopias, huh?”
“Only the good ones. You approve?”
“I suppose you get the Melissa seal of approval for this one. Although when it comes to post-apocalyptic anachronisms I tend to think Russell Hoban did it best with–“
“Riddley Walker? I completely agree. He clouds his deep-seated intellectualism in a story with such heart in a way that Miller doesn’t quite achieve.”
“Yeah, totally. I’m of the variety that points the finger at the use of language, at least if you’re going to compare them. Miller’s great, don’t get me wrong, but he veers a little too far into ‘Look ma, no hands’ territory at times.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got to grant that Riddley’s hobbled English would’ve fallen flat in the wrong hands. I mean, it already did in The Book of Dave. I like Will Self, and if you’re gonna crib someone you might as well crib Hoban, but at least do something with the genre we haven’t seen before ad nauseum.”
“Oh, I know. And don’t even get me started on the ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’’ section of Cloud Atlas, if we’re going to talk about cribbing Hoban. The constant apostrophes killed the entire atmosphere Mitchell was trying to achieve. I felt like I was being elbow-nudged more than I was being told a story.”
“God, yes. I’m glad someone else gets it. But anyway, I’ve got to let you do your job. There’s a line. Could you just ring me up on these ones?”
“Here’s your change.”
“Until next week, mademoiselle Melissa.”
“Yep, uh, yeah. Until next week.”
“Okay, you did not read that in a week. Jesus, did you?”
“Not in a week, but I did. Read it, I mean. Footnotes and all, I’ll have you know.”
“It’s the truest exploration of the human condition I’ve ever read.”
“And sure, if there’s anyone who can be accused of veering into ‘Look ma, no hands’ territory as you so eloquently put it last week, it’s DFW, but good Lord does the story’s heart make up for it.”
“I cried when I read the last line. I’m not ashamed to admit it.”
“I’d be worried if you didn’t!”
“And I don’t give two shits, frankly, if some people think he left it too open-ended. Did they honestly think that DFW, the author who famously ended a novel mid-sentence, would wrap everything up in a tidy little bow and tuck them into bed?”
“Yes, yes, and more yes. I’d kiss you if it wouldn’t get me kicked out of this place.”
“The book’s great.”
“Yep, uh, yeah.”
“So, what would you say to – and you don’t have to say yes, mind you – but what would you say to maybe lunch once your shift’s up? I am quite the luncher, let me tell you.”
“Oh wow. Oh… I mean, cool. Awesome. So it’s a date, then…?”
“Yeah. It’s a date.”