By N. Frank Daniels
Harper Perennial, $13.95, 352 pages
It’s rare to find a self-publishing success story in this highly competitive day and age, and rarer still for that book to actually impress with its witty brilliance, but N. Frank Daniels’ debut novel, Futureproof, accomplishes both tasks handily. Originally posted on the authors’ Myspace page, Daniels may be poised for mainstream success with this gritty, no holds barred modern and hip masterpiece that will appeal to the disaffected youth of America, as well as anybody who has ever been curious about the dark and seedy underbelly of the urban core, but afraid to venture there.
Futureproof is the loosely autobiographical tale of Luke, a dreadlocked dropout from Atlanta, and the ragtag band of losers and castoffs that enter (and, often, just as rapidly exit) his life. Set in the 1990s, when Kurt Cobain was a god for the disenfranchised, the novel churns along at a fast clip, as Luke’s penchant for experimentation evolves into addiction. He understands early that he is nothing more than a shadow on the fringes of society, and turns to drugs for escape.
“We are the misunderstood,” Daniels writes, in prose that crackles and pops, electrically vibrant and, at times, undeniably poetic, his descriptive narrative so vivid it often feels like the needle is dangling from your own arm. “We are the unclassified the oversimplified the target market the failing demographic. We are already dead, the untalented, the ugly, the wasted, the underused, making way for the new…We are the holes. The empty. The vacant. Carved out and hollow. Blankly staring. Echoes. Not ourselves. Not anyone.”
It is this sense of hopelessness, this lack of belonging, that drives Luke deeper and deeper into the lifestyle of hardcore drugs, until seemingly overnight he has transformed into a full-blown junkie willing to pull off increasingly brazen acts of desperation all for his next fix. Yet, Luke is an antihero, a 21st-century, rougher around the edges version of Holden Caulfield, and we never lose faith – or hope – in his desire for eventual redemption, because buried not so deeply beneath the surface we see Luke’s humanity, his intelligence and love. We want him to rid himself of his demons, and when the story ends, it is without the neat and tidy resolution we’d hoped for, which is not to say it is without hope. The very act of Luke’s survival is happy testament to the fact that he is not, after all, future-proof himself.
Reviewed by Mark Petruska