After reading Bill Clegg’s spellbinding memoir, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, I craved another memoir about New York. And as luck would have it, I won in a GoodReads raffle Josh Karlen’s new memoir, Lost Lustre (Tatra Press, 2010). And that’s what I read last week.
Karlen grows up in the Lower East Side in what later became known as Alphabet City. I’m quite familiar with this area because my cousins live there and I stayed with them several times 20 some years ago. I’ve since been back and enjoy that area: the clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, and especially my cousins’ place, 5C Cultural Center & Cafe.
But boy have things changed since Karlen grew up there. During his childhood, the police wouldn’t venture into the avenues. Delivery trucks wouldn’t go there and even bus drivers locked their doors as young Karlen reluctantly got off the bus at his stop and was greeted by muggers. It was bad news. But try telling that to his bohemian mother and step-father. Isolated in their mid-rise apartment building and able to escape in their car, Karlen’s parents weren’t subjected to the fear and violence that Karlen and his younger brother endured daily.
On the weekends, though, the boys found refuge with their father and his new wife, who lived in the West Village, a haven for intellectuals, writers, and artists. He also writes about his wild teenage days, hanging out at the renowned CBGB where his best friend’s band, The Lustres, played.
In a way, Karlen’s childhood resembled Clegg’s in that they both turned to alcohol and drugs to quell an emptiness stemmed from their dysfunctional families. Lost Lustre is a quick read and, like Clegg, Karlen is an able storyteller who never feels sorry for himself despite his troubled childhood.