2008 fiction finalist

Richard Lange | Dead Boys

Photo of authorAbout the author
Richard Lange was born in Oakland, CA, in 1961 and spent his childhood in various small towns in California's Central Valley. He attended film school at the University of Sourthern California, spent time traveling in Europe, and returned to LA to work in a series of magazine and book publishing jobs. Lange published his first short story in 1994, in New Delta Review, and his story "Bank of America" was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories of 2004. He lives in Los Angeles.

About the book
These hard-hitting, deeply felt stories follow straight arrows and outlaws, have-it-alls and outcasts, as they take stock of their lives and missteps and struggle to rise above their turbulent pasts. A salesman re-examines his tenuous relationship with his sister after she is brutally attacked. A house painter plans a new life for his family as he plots his last bank robbery. A drifter gets a chance at love when he delivers news of a barfly's death to the man's estranged daughter. A dissatisfied yuppie is oddly envious of his ex-con brother as they celebrate their first Christmas together.

Critics / Reviews
Set in a Southern California of smoky skies and Neil Young tunes, Lange's fine debut collection takes the so-called normal guy—husband, father, working stiff—and throws a heap of trouble at him. Bank of America is the completely believable tale of a regular John Q, a house painter who also happens to rob banks with a small-time team of hustlers while still being a good father and husband to his unsuspecting family. Long Lost follows a tentative young husband and reluctant proofreader as he copes with the sudden appearance of a boisterous, angry, ex-con half-brother, courtesy of his neglectful father's second wife. In Culver City, named after a southeast neighborhood of L.A. where we're all between jobs or between marriages, between runs of good luck, the narrator's desperately unhappy waitress girlfriend Shelly hopes the compromising pictures of a famous actor that she steals at a party can fetch a price to change her luck and solidify their relationship. A considered, colloquial understatement marks nearly all of the first-person protagonists over the course of these 12 stories, in a manner that's marvelously effective. Lange's characters are well-intentioned screwups, deeply flawed and utterly convincing.  — Publisher's Weekly

In the dozen heartbreaking stories collected here, Lange homes in on a group of twentysomething slackers living in the markedly less-prosperous suburbs of L.A. These bereft young men don't seem to suffer so much from a lack of ambition as from a surfeit of emotion. Frayed nerves and broken hearts have kept them from realizing even the smallest of dreams; they're always "between jobs or between marriages, between runs of good luck." In the title story, the nameless narrator is beset by a host of worries—he thinks his wife is having an affair and that one of his office colleagues is about to commit suicide. Little wonder, then, that he can barely keep his mind on his job—pushing a new brand of yogurt. The yawning divide between his sterile work environment and his chaotic emotions prompts him to remark, "I'm full to bursting and empty at the same time." Lange's slice-of-life scenarios, emotionally wrecked characters, and piercingly funny dialogue make for a powerful combination that recalls the work of Thomas McGuane and Denis Johnson.  — Booklist