This week in City Read: Revenge of the Donut Boys--True Stories of Lust, Fame, Survival and Multiple Personality, by Mike Sager.
I enjoy reading Mike Sager because he likes to write about the same stuff I do, only with more celebrities. (Full disclosure: Mike Sager lives in San Diego and I am his part-part-time assistant). Currenly a writer-at-large for Esquire and a former contributor to GQ and Rolling Stone, Sager's specializes in people. Young, old, loony, powerful, beautiful, and--when he's at his best--ordinary.
Donut Boys is Sager's second collection of magazine stories. (His first, Scary Monsters and Super Freaks--Stories of Sex, Drugs, Rock n' Roll, and Murder, came out in 2003.) This one includes goodies like 'The Multitude of Roseanne,' in which Sager interviews Roseanne Barr and her seven alternate personalities, 'Deviates in Love,' which follows a couple through their first weekend at a swingers' retreat, and 'Fact: Five Out of Five Kids Who Kill Love Slayer,' in which, essentially, Sager hangs with the band and makes a really good story out of it.
More...The thing he can do that I really admire is taking everyday life and making it compulsively readable. He does this in stories like 'Fifty Grand in San Diego,' a profile of an ex-marine turned stay-at-home dad, 'The Man of Tomorrow Goes to The Prom,' a profile of an Orange County high school senior, and 'Old,' a profile of a 92-year-old man named Glenn Sanberg who lives in Sun City, Arizona. It's no secret; Sager's a disciple of 'new journalism,' a not-so-new-anymore style of literary nonfiction whose grandaddys include dudes like Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Normal Mailer and even Truman Capote. This style appeals to writers (myself included) because it allows for colorful, descriptive, cinematic writing. It appeals to readers because it's as as engaging and entertaining as fiction, with the added kick of being a true story.
But there's the catch. For some people, highly-stylized nonfiction veers too far off course from documentation to invention.
'He opens his eyes, blinking against the light,' Sager writes in a paragraph from 'Old.' 'Through the cracks in the partially opened vertical blinds, he can see the sky, a wan blue, vectored with contrails, overhung with wispy clouds. He thinks of the cold, clear sky of a northern Minnesota winter. He thinks of Joan digging in the garden, a smudge of mud on her nose. Dad sitting in President Eisenhower's chair in the White House, a proud and grave expression on his face. Tom bagging his first buck with the Savage .303. Mickey reeling a fat pike on a sparkling mountain lake. Little Eleanor, limp in her bed, scarlet fever. Joan falling against a door. Lucy falling against the curb. Ann Black, front row center at the Greek Week songfest, legs crossed, dark eyes beaming. Jeffy's warm, tiny hand inside of his.'
But how does Sager know what the man is thinking?! some of my colleagues demand to know, and it's a valid question. How can he know exactly what someone else saw, thought and felt at a particular moment? How can this possibly be 100% true?
The only way to decide is to read it yourself. Odds are, you'll have a lot of fun doing it.