Outskirts Press (2013)
Reviewed by Susan Violante for Reader Views (01/14)
“Gus” by Martin Vlain is the perfect example of why Indie Publishing is not only necessary but bound for greatness. At an Authors, Publisher’s and Agents Conference in 2010 I remember an agent asking one of the authors, “Why is your life so special? Why would people want to buy your book?” I understand that the agent was thinking about marketing while looking for the $ sign, but as a reader I felt offended. It is books like this one, filled with genuine experience, feeling and candidness that as a reader I want to be able to find, not just the literary acclaimed or best sellers, but traditional publishing companies often ignore these books.
Vlain presents his story in his own simple, uncensored, unique voice. The story is his experiences and family life growing up mostly in Brooklyn during the depression during the early 1940’s. His story is not very different than many others living through this region and era, yet what hooked me was his perception as a child of what went on around him. His perception of his family, friends, and neighbors, and his perception of how war affected him as he grew up. Gus begins history at the age of 7 and goes through his teens, including flashbacks of his family’s past. What captured me as I went through his story was Vlain’s ability to take me into Gus’ mind as he was growing up and faced each one of his experiences. I fell for Gus’ innocence, humor, and the hilarious ways he interpreted what the grownups said or did. But humor and childish antics was not all Vlain presented in this captivating book - there were also thought provoking facts of the era like facing the fear of health loss and the medical system of the times, as well as WWII. There were also coming of age markers such as a Boxing match, and a private conversation with his mother, with whom he didn’t sympathize.
Overall, ”Gus” by Martin Vlain is delightful book written in a simple language that shares the experiences, antics, and life lessons of a kid growing up during a very difficult time for the US. Written in first person, each chapter reads as vignettes, and yet the flow of Gus’ life in the story is well presented in a constant way. The author began his book stating that he would do the best he could as he is not an experienced writer. Kudos for a job well done and without a doubt a wonderful and candid self-portrait of a man’s childhood!