The Minnesota Daily, September 17, 1990
Some people escape the self-conscious, anxious, and awkward years of adolescence virtually unscathed. Others emerge poised for disaster, their direction already set on the self-defeating path of alcoholism and/or drug addiction. A close observation of modem society reveals that the ranks of this second group swell a bit more each year. Rarely apparent to the young victims or those near them, the sneaky process of “becoming an addict” is often, sadly, most clearly viewed in retrospect. Tragic retrospect also best describes the point of view of Minneapolis writer John Rosengren’s collection of short stories.
The stories of Life is Just a Party trace the secondary school years of Tom Robinson, once a student council member, ultimately a high school senior struggling with the recovery process .Each^ story contains distinct aspects, yet they all build around the same fragile, quickly shifting world of addiction. This fine balance between precise fictive details and the recognizable signals of dysfunction distinguishes Rosengren's work as both literary and substance bearing.
As his moods constantly alternate between anticipation, disappointment, and a desperate craving for comfort, Tom’s addiction progresses in a manner both hauntingly vague and strikingly decipherable. He learns the shallow landscape of these three emotions at a young age, and he maneuvers through them repetitively. Each story contains the same process. Tom dreams of the approaching evening, drinking and smoking with his friends in anticipation of the great worlds that they will each conquer. But for Tom, each night ends in suspicious disappointment, though the reader clearly sees that Tom is not a victim in these disappointments, but his own enemy, a lethargic anti-agent to his own success. Consistently, Tom's finale involves the use of alcohol and marijuana as self-awarded consolation prizes.
A world of heavier and heavier facades emerges as the burden of this downward spiraling existence. The process repeats, though the anticipation hangs on a different object, or a different event, and the ensuing addiction reveals itself as a sort of personal centripetal force. Soon Tom Robinson's nights dwell more in the realm of solitary consolation and less in that of anticipation. Soon a dim negative cloud films the first person narration of Tom's antics. Soon Tom ceases to be taking drinks, and the old saying proves true: The drinks begin taking Tom. The substance-controlled world that he has nurtured collapses under its own weight.
Commendably, Rosengren portrays this process without the use of clichés or stereotypes. Tom Robinson is identifiable and yet distinctive, and while the process of his addiction contains many the warning signals that often accompany drug addiction and alcoholism, Life is Just a Party retains a strikingly literary dimension. A collection that easily may have fallen to the level of flat message pieces. Rosengren aptly supports each of these stories with a keen instinct for the power and intricacies of good fiction.
The stories are intended for an adolescent audience and have a great deal of potential as an aid in versing young adults in the possible detriment of alcohol and drug use. But good intentions do not good fiction make, and many students will argue the uselessness of most educational literature. This is why Rosengren’s skill as a writer emerges as critical.
Back to top