Me & Mr. Cigar (Soho)
Gibby Haynes is best known to music fans as the frontman with San Antonio psychedelic punks the Butthole Surfers — the group that, through the ’80s and right up to the present day, has challenged the very concept of what it means to be a punk rocker. They’ve confused and dumbfounded thousands as they’ve performed at festivals alongside more accessible genre bands, hypnotizing a respectable cult following along the way, and they’ve had a great time doing it.
It should come as no surprise then, to learn that Haynes’ young adult novel, Me & Mr. Cigar, continues on that gloriously oddball, dumbfounding path. But let’s not flog that “Haynes is a bit of a nutcase” horse too savagely; what hardcore Butthole Surfers fans know that might pass casual observers by is that Haynes has always been a talented, thoughtful lyricist. He’s not some comedic, punk rock version of Weird Al. So his gift for flowing, compelling prose isn’t surprising at all.
Me & Mr. Cigar tells the story of 17-year-old Oscar and his supernatural dog Mr. Cigar. Oscar’s sister, Rachel, fled to New York to become an artist after Mr. Cigar bit off her hand. But Rachel calls Oscar to say that she’s being held hostage, so he and his dog must rush to the rescue.
On the surface, that’s bonkers. But, as is the norm for Haynes, the story has genuine depth. This is a story of friendship and the complexities of family. Of retribution and forgiveness. And it’s hard to say much else without giving too much away.
“I tried to tell a story that I might have liked to read when I was a 13-year-old,” says Haynes in the Introduction. “Something slightly dangerous, slightly funny, at that particular age of newfound emotions. Loss and loneliness at the dawn of grown-up love.”
That’s exactly what he’s achieved. The book does feel rebellious and mildly dangerous — the sort of thing a young teen will delight in reading when the parents are downstairs watching TV, smiling at the fact that they’ll never know the subversive nature of the prose because, let’s fact it, most parents don’t read their teen’s Young Adult novels. But the flip-side is that there are real life lessons in here.
Well played, sir.