Nina has issues. She wants to be a writer when she grows up because she needs to get some things off her mind. Her mother abandoned her at birth, then went on to become the world's most popular porn star. Nina lives with her father, an alcoholic, drug-addicted screenwriter in Los Angeles. Her father's best friend (a deranged schizophrenic) also lives with them. The madness of her life is driving her crazy. Then she gets brain cancer. Determined to beat it, she meets another child genius in the hospital and they form an immediate friendship. Just as things are looking up, she discovers that her mother is not only the world's most popular porn star, but also one of the sickest serial killers imaginable. Nina has always wanted to meet her mother. Now she fears her mother wants to meet her.
Brian Bowyer is obviously a good writer. I can't imagine he would want or need my opinion on that. Nonetheless, I will say he exhibits craftsmanship, too. His sentences have good bones. And he dresses them with economy and flair. I also appreciate his ability to tell a story, which is something of a waning art here and now. So it seems to me he's a good author, too.
About the novel--(I don't like labeling or pigeonholing so please excuse this admittedly superficial metaphor) if I were to try and triangulate the work with exemplars of genre or style, I might try to sector it near Stephen King/Kurt Vonnegut/Quentin Tarantino. As Vonnegut is the only one of those three in my wheelhouse, this novel really shouldn't have been my cup of tea. That said, I can maybe more objectively regard it to spite my ignorance, so to speak. It was a damned interesting read. It's been a long time since I read a book in one sitting, and I really enjoyed that.
It's a fascinating story. It repels and compels. SHELF LIFE is a naked and profound look at the consequences of post-modern American society on the human soul. The juxtaposition of nihilist and narcissist paradigms with simple and pure human connections expose the moral bankruptcy of modern life. From the beginning, Lamia builds as a boiling-over manifestation of misogynist social urges like Dorian Gray's portrait out on the town. And from Steve's "Goddamned American dream" to Frisk's worthless wealth, all material pursuit pales compared to Tyler and Nina racing to find good moments in a childhood doomed with no hope for the future--a boy grown old too fast in a brutal time, and the perfect girl who can't live. The parents of the terminal children voice the search for peace in defiance of deprivation in a spiritually bereft world. Somewhere near the center, tragic and turbid, Emily and Jeremy revolve, seeming to suggest that all things fall apart yet somehow hold.
Heavy stuff, indeed. This society's shelf life looks past due. Or maybe there's a shelf life on self-destruction. In the end, what remains is more creation than destruction. Music, marriage, and remission make a strong final chord of hope, or at least respite, after a dark tale.
5 stars and unconditional recommendation.