After reading the first half of The End of Boys, a memoir by Oregon writer Peter Brown Hoffmeister, I felt pretty confident that this would not have a happy ending. He endured what can only be described as a train wreck of a childhood with a mother and a father who would never earn any parenting awards.
In this raging account of his male adolescence, Hoffmeister is used, abused, and tossed around by family and friends. Initially, he is home-schooled and morphs into a nervous child who bites his fingernails until they bleed and who wrestles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eventually, when he becomes “too much” for his parents to handle, he is shipped off to and expelled from a string of schools. Throughout these years, he takes drugs, sells drugs, and beats the lowlifes he encounters to within an inch of their lives. Drugs and violence beget more drugs and violence.
Yet, it’s not like he doesn’t have a good excuse because he surely does. His parents are educated and bright but extremely misguided. The fact that his father is a doctor only serves to underscore the fact that there is no correlation between good parenting and education or money. His mother is mentally absent and they’re both religious fanatics. Authorities too, are heavy handed and clueless as to how to save a drowning teenage boy.
Fortunately, Hoffmeister is smart and he shines as an athlete. Even at his lowest, he is dazzled by a good book and is curious about life. As in all memoirs with happy endings, there are a few people who see his potential and somehow they help him wade through the muck to come out the other side. Eventually, even his parents evolve.
The backdrop for most of the story is Eugene, Oregon and it is painted as a claustrophobic small town in the middle of nowhere littered with houses of drug-taking thugs who think it is fun to look for a cat to kill while high on acid. But, it is this same town that Hoffmeister returns to when he is ready to turn his life around. No fresh start where nobody knows him. No, he faces his accusers and shows them what he is made of and finds redemption and love on his old stomping grounds.
Hoffmeister does not show an ounce of self-pity or sentimentality. There are no “what-if’s” – only the remarkable ability to leave it on the page for the reader to decipher and absorb. His prose is sparse yet vivid. It is a must read for anyone who liked Townie by Andre Dubus III or The Chronology of Water by another great Oregon writer, Lidia Yuknavitch.