Why write a book about Josh? What was is about his life that made him deserve such a tribute?
Lucas Mann has an MFA from the prestigious University of Iowa, and it shows. This, of course, makes him a good writer—albeit one with perhaps not-always-wise choices—but sets up a tremendous juxtaposition between author and subject. He often cites literary giants such as Philip Roth and Virginia Woolf to make sense of the life and death of a junkie, and it’s such a stark and unexpected comparison that it distracts rather than enlightens.
Lord Fear is Mann’s ode to his older brother, Josh, who died of a heroin overdose when Mann was just 13. Losing an idolized family member at such a young age has some clear effects: The brother left behind has more questions than answers; he never loses his admiration for the elder sibling; and the dead brother forever maintains a heavenly glow, never to be tarnished with age. Mann indirectly acknowledges this when addressing Josh’s dead-end path to becoming a man: “[Josh] achieved the alternative—he simply didn’t do it at all. That’s how Josh became a myth.”
Mann portrays Josh as a tortured artist, yet the examples he provides to support this assertion say otherwise. The author cites journal entries and transcriptions of tapes the adolescent Josh made with his friends, all in a quest to understand and memorialize his brother. But it backfires: Through his own words, Josh largely comes off as an insignificant asshole, begging the question: Why did Mann feel the need to write an entire book about this man? And perhaps even greater: Why should we care?
Lord Fear is not without its insights and beauty. After interviewing Josh’s friend Dan, Mann fictionalizes some of his actions. Dan, at a party: “Everyone around him is talking about beauty—the beautiful feeling of a drug he’s never tried, the beautiful sound on the keyboard on a record he hasn’t heard of, the beautiful way light functions in some movie with a French name.” Elegant language—yet greatly apparent in its contrast with the subject matter.
Later: Dan, trying to reconcile the tension between his girlfriend and somewhat estranged friend Josh: “He wants to defend his home and his matching furniture and the woman that he bought it with. But more so, troublingly more so, he wants to defend Josh to her. It is a special loneliness to be flanked by two people who you love who do not like each other, an empty feeling to know that they don’t see what you see.” [An aside: The incorrect use of “who” when it should be “whom,” and the use of “that” when it’s unnecessary, especially troubles me when coming from a fellow MFA.]
When I opened Lord Fear, I expected to find an examination of the life of someone who could have been—perhaps should have been—a relevant, positive, contributing member to society and the many lives surrounding him. What I got instead was a too-close look at a forgettable—and, let’s be honest, largely unlikeable—young man who died a sad, solitary, and unremarkable death.
At one point, interviewing one of Josh’s friends, Mann receives that very question: Why write a book about Josh? What was is about his life that made him deserve such a tribute? And I thought: Yes. There it is. My sentiments exactly. | Laura Hamlett