For a first novel, Some Things that Meant the World to Me, Joshua Mohr has created a completely original character in Rhonda, a 30 year old suffering from depersonalization.
The first two chapters are pretty brutal – Rhonda chronicles the abuses brought upon him by his mother and his mother’s boyfriend. He reveals these experiences to his therapist in a kind of free form association having to do with ink blots. His therapists wrists are thin, and Mohr writes “I always thought they were probably brittle like uncooked angel-hair pasta.” For the rest of the book, Rhonda’s therapist is know as Dr. Angel-Hair.
Some parts of the book are surreal. Rhonda meets a younger version of himself, Little Rhonda. Little Rhonda shows him a trapdoor in the bottom of a dumpster behind a taqueria. This trap door leads him to memories of his mother and past abuses. In some other books, this would have made me roll my eyes, but Mohr makes Rhonda so real the magic-realism never rang false.
Mohr has a uncanny knack for food metaphors. Many offbeat characters are compared to food, and it caught me off gaurd and made me laugh. He describes a hooker wearing too much makeup, “She wore so much makeup that it looked like she’d rubbed refried beans on her cheeks.” A homeless woman is described as having arms so skinny they looked like prosciutto wrapped around pigeon bones. Totally original.
Rhonda’s story is peppered with characters from the streets of San Francisco. Rhonda’s heart is good and he ends up defending various people in bad situations. This makes him sympathetic and very likeable. It would be easy to feel sorry for Rhonda, but I never did. I felt sorry for some of the other characters though – old lady Rhonda, whose husband regularly beats her, and Vern, a barfly who drinks warm Michelob and wears a diaper.
There is a plot but I don’t want to give anything away. I’d read this book again just for Rhonda and the other eccentric characters that ring completely true and original.