I hope you’re all having a good week! It’s Wednesday, and a good time for another feature. So, today I’m happy to present you Paradise Squandered by Alex Stefansson.
And now, time for a sneak peek. Enjoy!
Insightful, provocative and bold, Paradise Squandered is Alex Stefansson's take-no-prisoners debut novel about a cynical teenager's naive artistic aspirations, and his pining love for a girl he is too afraid to actually talk to. It is a raw, powerful portrait of a disaffected generation in an empty, consumer-culture world. It is the story of Andrew Banks, a recent graduate of Puget Sound Prep and quite possibly the most directionless member of his graduating class.
This is a story of what it is like to aimlessly trudge along that strange and uncharted course that is life after high school.
Andrew returns home from a long-promised graduation trip to Hawaii and re-enters a bland, suburban landscape of privilege and indifference feeling alone and empty. The house he grew up in doesn't feel like home anymore. His mother seems more interested in desperately clinging to youth than being a mother. His sister only cares about playing the role of dutiful daughter. His brother disappeared years ago. His dad died when he was ten.
Talented but uninspired, Andrew knows he wants to pursue his art, but he has no idea how. He resigns himself to going through the motions of his own life, until he overhears the disturbing truth of his father's death. He instantly decides he has to leave his childhood home forever, and a darkly hilarious odyssey ensues.
I shift into neutral, kill the engine and start coasting through the last few blocks of eerily-silent residential streets, running stop signs, not wanting to disturb anyone or alert anyone to my presence. The wharf is in sight, barely lit by the waning moon and my approaching headlights. It's all downhill from here. I switch off the headlights and stop the car behind an overflowing dumpster. The air coming through the heater-vents is already growing cold again, I notice as I set the emergency brake; I was just starting to warm up, too. I can see my breath every time I exhale. The windows begin to fog up again. I pull the key out of the ignition, open the door and step out into the cold night air.
I'm digging around in the trunk, using my cell-phone as a flashlight, hoping to find some extra clothes, or a blanket, or anything else that could possibly help keep me warm. But there is not all that much to look through. The trunk is unfortunately clean and uncluttered. All I see is an empty gas can and this enormous emergency kit my mother gave me for Christmas the year I started driving.
“That car is a death-trap,” she told me. She told me that on more than one occasion. “That's the biggest kit I could find,” she said, which, in her mind at least, undoubtedly meant it was the best. “You'll thank me one day.” It wasn't the merriest Christmas. I don't have many happy holiday memories. Too much awkward, forced mingling.
An emergency blanket rustles obnoxiously as I shake it out of its packaging. I'm still mentally debating whether or not to actually use anything from the kit as I pull the thin Mylar rectangle over my shoulders, tightening the blanket around my back—I'm concerned my mother will later somehow find out what I've done here and be proven correct about the usefulness of her very thoughtful Christmas gift. I shake off the doubt, grab a road flare, slam the trunk lid shut and walk the rest of the way down the steeply-declining, dead-end road. I cross the railroad tracks and stop for a moment, peering through the chain-link fence that cordons off the remains of the decaying wharf. I'm amazed at the fact that such disrepair exists only a few hundred yards from million-dollar refuges for undeserving, maladjusted social climbers. Inherited wealth is all around me, and it makes me feel a bit sick about my own lot in life.
I'm trying to calm myself by intently listening to the tranquil sounds of seawater softly lapping at the bottoms of boulders, above which railroad tracks run parallel to the Puget Sound coastline as far as I can see. The tide is high. I'm all alone. Alone in my head. My very cold head. I pull the Mylar blanket tighter as I examine the tall chain-link fence in front of the crumbling fishing-pier.
The construction gate and various sections of fencing are cobbled together by a haphazard assortment of chains and padlocks, bailing wire and zip-ties. No Trespassing and Watkins Construction, LLC signs threaten various punishments for intruders, but most of it is obscured by graffiti and weather-damage. A plastic shopping bag rustles in the breeze, caught on the coil of barbed wire which runs along the top of the length of the fence.
I walk along the towering barrier until I find a hole. I easily step through, but my blanket gets caught. Annoyed, I wrap it around myself even tighter, holding onto it with both hands, my arms crossing my chest. I can feel the material stretching until it finally breaks free, sending me stumbling forward across the trash-strewn gravel. My blanket has already become a tattered rag, I perceive with dismay, feeling cold air rushing in around my back. But at least it is still crinkly and reflective, I conclude sarcastically.
About the Author
Alex Stefansson's writing is often influenced by sleep deprivation and too much caffeine. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Squandering Paradise: the blog of writer, Alex Stefansson