102 pages, $13.95
Review by Nicholas Rys
Sean H. Doyle is a seeker. His gasoline-soaked debut, This Must Be the Place, begins with a quote by legendary American Mystic, Edgar Cayce, “…at any time, in any world, a soul will give off through vibrations the story of itself and the condition in which it now exists.” Throughout the book, both parts at the end of that quote prove to be important, as Doyle summons up not only the vibrations of the story itself, but also the condition in which it now exists.
The book presented itself to me unusually. I was half drunk on a Thursday night and for some reason, eager to start something new. The explosive and deceptively playful cotton-candy-meets-Jackson-Pollock cover art was too loud to ignore, even strewn across my living room floor next to a handful of other 2015 books I had recently ordered. Despite my better efforts to call it quits after the first vignette. This is heavy stuff, I thought. I should wait until tomorrow. I read the first half in one feverish sitting.
The next morning I woke up before my alarm and promptly called in sick for the day. I rambled on my employer’s voicemail about congestion or nausea or some other hypothetical and exaggerated version of the truth, made coffee and finished the book. That’s how good it is. I couldn’t leave it. Even as I tried to sleep that night I was lost in the annals of Doyle’s mind, riding half pipes and getting high, wondering where I’d be taken next when I opened it back up. I was both strapped into the roller coaster and stuck in line at the same time.
While certainly a piece of nonfiction, to call this a book a memoir almost makes me cringe as it somehow skirts all the genre’s typical pitfalls. In fact, it would be easy to read this book and think it to be a piece of fiction – the only place the word memoir appears in the whole book (a stylistic choice, no doubt) is in tiny, red font on the back cover to the left of the serial number, an arguably important label quite easy to miss.
The book itself is kinetic, a vehicle of perpetual motion. His lean, work-the-body prose helps to deliver a harrowing and intimate self-portrait void of sentimentality. Here brutal memories spring up in epistolary form with complete disregard for linear time to create beautiful juxtapositions that challenge the reader to connect dots on his or her own, or, for the brave, to merely accept that memory has no straight line but is a shotgun splattering of beads in a splintered tree trunk; an arbitrary and futile attempt at organizing the unorganizable. Doyle refuses to seek the order, instead following instinct and sense memory.
I won’t inundate you with gritty details from the narrator’s past; other reviews will get great pleasure in printing shocking passages to scare you into reading it or to guide you into believing you are reading just another junkie memoir; which, by the way, you are not.
Suffice it to say Doyle has been through quite a bit; there’s the cult, the homelessness, the drugs. There are a lot of those. But this isn’t a book about what he’s been through. It’s about seeking. It’s about the unrelenting beauty of trying; a twisted and transgressive punk rock meditation on Sisyphus. It’s about how memory works and its fragility. Doyle doesn’t hope for a light at the end of the tunnel, he blows up all the tunnels to see the light on his own terms.
Doyle’s prose is fucking gorgeous and beautiful in its restraint; this is clearly and carefully crafted writing, not Kerouac-esque amphetamine blurts, but thoughtfully crafted crystalline prose that often left me for dead. I wasn’t there the night the skinheads came. I wasn’t there when they hid under parked cars and attacked people with bats and flashed knives and hit girls and boys and it turned into a riot in the middle of the street. For years and years, I lied and said I had been. But I wasn’t. Or the time when he was doing amphetamines with a girlfriend when the dealer stopped by...I tell him I don’t have any money and go get him the rest of the pills and he suddenly has a bat in his hand and is threatening me and I start to laugh and ask him if beating me up over forty bucks is a good idea and then he just leaves. I was fucking terrified…
Doyle’s book is fraught with sincerity and brutality, clearly written in hindsight with the subtlety of a brick but the care of a loose thread. Try not to fall apart.
Nicholas Rys lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio where he writes, teaches and makes music. His work has previously appeared in Entropy Mag, Shotgun Honey and Fanzine. His is a member of the artist collective and archive My Idea of Fun, based out of his hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.