Background Noise: Peter DeMarco
Henry Walker is stuck in a maze called life with so many entrances and exits he has no idea which path to take. Henry has been walking through life, each day hoping to find his true destiny, yet never reaching the heights of success or meeting the right people to help him focus and get there. Henry Walker wants to become an actor. But, so far all he has been able to attain are roles that call for Background Noise, extras a mull around a street corner, sit on benches or walk and talk in crowds providing the external and nonessential conversation needed to bolster the scene being filmed and hopefully make it come alive for the viewing audience.
We meet Henry in the Spring of 1976 where he gives the reader a lesson in vocabulary and introduces us to a cast of characters that are also quite unique, dysfunctional and vividly described. Uncle Charlie takes him along on many outings, dances with imaginary partners, presents him with Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler magazines and introduces him to some fast women that Henry fantasizes about. The words he teaches us I will not include in my review but they are lets say typical of what many young teens or young adults are curious about as we learn more about Nikki, a prostitute that he has taken a shine to and his fixation with a classmate named Marilyn.
Henry misses his mother and blames himself for her death. He feels that he did not pray enough to save her and has not forgiven himself. He gets more entwined in this complicated maze and cannot find his way to clear path. With the help of his Priest he gets a job as a janitor in the church, which presents a whole new, set of problems as his fantasies become more graphic and his thoughts about the nun he’s helping inappropriate and the end result quite startling. But, the Priest teaches him some valuable lessons and explains something that the author relates that everyone just might learn from: “Guilt is a terrible thing, the priest says. Next time you get those feelings, I want you to do something: Picture a giant eraser.” The priest continues by saying that the eraser will wipe about your guilt. Think about that the next time you feel overwhelmed of guilty about something that is eating you. It just might help. But, what happens next is quite compelling as the Priest requests to come over his house for a swim, the scene gets intense, the overtures are obvious and the end result a surprise.
Henry never quite finds himself as yet and we meet him in 1980 where he is working on an article for school about gay bars. We get introduced to new characters that seem to be caught up in that tangled web or maze just like Henry. The conversation centers around his hope to become a movie star, made up stories that he creates, memories of his childhood and his encounter with a man named Earl caught up in his own sadness after losing his married partner.
The author presents a unique compilation of short stories each with their own specific theme yet combined as one novella you see the common thread. Henry, an orphan seems stuck in his own private world and lives in his parent’s house. From the moment we meet him you can tell that he’s flighty, has no major goals and he does not prepare for the future just for that single second or moment when an opportunity or thought strikes him and he acts, often without thinking of the end result. The author creates a unique way for us to understand him as the chronology spans from age 13 to adulthood or his thirties. From his encounters with a bully in school named Kevin who we meet later on, to his job offer in Home Depot, Henry’s vivid recollections take us back in time to his childhood memories, the smells and odors within Home Depot that remind him of his father’s plumbing supply store and the changes that happen within him that cause this calm and relatively mild young man to go ballistic and violent.
Each story is different yet binds together his entire life as he flashes back within each one to incidents from the past. You might say that Background Noise, which is the cue for the extras on a movie set to talk, cheer or do whatever is required in the scene, is more like his whole life. He seems to be living in his own scene, in his own world and each time we meet him and learn about the different situations with the priest, the bully, the little league game and the prostitutes, we realize that the noises, the voices we hear are just background sounds and not reality at times.
Henry never went to his teachers, priest or anyone for any guidance or help. It would seem that he’s alone, isolated and has no definite direction. Where he could have gotten the help from the church, school and family no one steps up. The stories are unique each having its own beginning, middle and end yet coming together as the final curtain comes down. Imagine, as I said before a priest that has an ulterior motive but never gets the chance to act. Another priest who misses the cues when he fabricates a story about running over a kid on Halloween telling him this story because the priest was wearing his father’s shirt and he wanted to and steal it back and he does. The cry for help was obvious and yet no one picks it up.
Added in we learn that Henry needs to learn how do deal with sex and his discussions at times are quite inappropriate for some to read yet quite revealing for others as we get to understand his interest in women, girls and the actions he relates that are no different than many other teens experiment with.
Henry is quite handsome in his own right and his amazing blond hair is his best feature. Thinking that this will enhance his chances of becoming a movie star but he never seems to embrace anything or meet the right girl or find anyone that he can care about. He seems lost. So, why not feel sorry for yourself and from a great kid who is basically trying to do the right thing he decides to get noticed on the wrong way. What he does in the church bathroom you will have to learn for yourself as the poor nun that sees him might never be the same. Next, we learn about Kevin the bully that taunted in him school for not helping him cheat on a math test. So, either within his mind or in actuality he decides to take matters into his own hands when during a baseball game something happens, he snaps and he takes a baseball bat and beats someone over the head with it. But, Henry was just starting to get even with Kevin as we hear the sirens come one night when Kevin’s house burns and the flack Henry gets from him and those living in the neighborhood when he decides to paint his house bright red will tell you that he’s on a downward spiral and better hope not to get tangled up even more in this complex maze.
The stories begin in 1978 and next we meet him in the Winter of 95 with a story titled The Commuter, which is the title of his friend Tommy’s film. The film centers around a topless bar, dancers then he meets a homeless man and for some reason he does something really mean to him. Relating some of his early experiences, shopping and then reliving his mother’s death we learn more about his feelings of guilt, his unhappiness and the anger rising within him that causes him to do what he does to the homeless man. But, for some reason he once again feels guilty and what he does will surprise the reader.
The story that is really frightening is the one titled Little League and as you read the events you will understand why. Meeting the bully from his old school in a hardware store and handing him a quarter to help pay his bill when he was short was definitely out of character for Henry but what he does next is really weird. Painting his house red, dealing with the neighbors, the vandalism and the threats seeing kids playing baseball in the street and then taking a detour to watch a baseball game played on his old elementary school’s diamond. But, this game would be one that everyone would remember for many years and maybe forever as the end result turned violent. Why? You need to read that for yourself. In 1997 he meets Dwight in Amsterdam and then just when you think things are going to turn around he gets a job as a temporary assistant for his friend Ben and Henry seems to thrive and really wants to keep this job since it deals with the film industry. But, like everything else it comes to an end and nowhere did his friend ever ask him if he would like the job permanently or think that it might be a great fit for him. His final fate and what he decides to do well might not surprise you but the ending leaves the reader wondering what is next for Henry, where will life take him and if the author is going to write more of his story.
Author Peter DeMarco brings to light many issues that many young people and adults are facing today. Life is difficult, choices have to be made, jobs are not easy to get and all too often many will wind up like Henry searching for their own identities, hoping to be noticed and visible, taking risks that should not be taken and praying no one finds out what he’s done. One really thought-provoking book filled with many questions, some answers and one young man that need to find out who he is for himself. Background Noise: You need to really listen to hear what anyone is saying and hopefully before it’s too late.
Fran Lewis: reviewer