It’s no coincidence that some of the most controversial and widely discussed books of the last century have been coming-of-age novels. Evidently there’s something about a young person’s path through the minefield of adolescence that can capture the anxieties of an epoch.
However, it’s the ability to evoke both the anxiety of youth and what Whitman might call its “large, lusty and loving” appetites that lend the coming-of-age novel its keenest edge. Planet of the Dates humorously relates the awkwardness of adolescence and, alongside its political and cultural subtext, makes for an entertaining examination of sex and love through the eyes of a romantic but horny teenager. The leading character, Phil Corcoran (whose similar name is not the book’s only allusion to the author’s own life), careens from one bold romantic quest to another, barely losing momentum and finally crashing painfully back to reality.
Relaying his protagonist’s carnal needs without losing sight of his spiritual needs was of primary importance to McComas. “I think that does separate this book from the Porky's and American Pie-type thing,” he says. “In a way it’s the thinking, feeling person’s version of that because it doesn’t shy away from the incredibly agitated hormones that go with the male adolescence, but also shows this is someone a little deeper than that.”
McComas uses humor with deliberation, both to disarm his readers and throw the more painful experiences into relief. “When it’s primarily a comedic tone throughout, it gives you the chance in certain moments to move away from that, and those poignant moments, or those moments of recollected pain, have greater impact than they would in an earnest, serious book,” he says.
McComas, who apart from being a writer is also an artist, actor and filmmaker, will be performing passages from his book at the Woodland Pattern Book Center on May 4 at 2 p.m. and at Barnes & Noble in Bayshore, May 13, 7 p.m. He will be accompanied at Woodland Pattern by author Tim Brown, whose latest book, Walking Man, revisits the rampant ’zine culture of the late 20th century. The performance/readings will be followed by a screening of McComas’ House of Usher, a film he made as a child and has since digitally re-edited. To read a full interview with Paul McComas, go to Author’s Voices at www.expressmilwaukee.com.