“After all most of us are mowing someone else’s lawn one way or another, and most of us can’t afford to travel the world or live in New York City. Most of us feel like the world is giving us a big fat middle finger when it’s not kicking us in the face with a steel-toed boot. And most of us feel powerless. Motivated but powerless. Entertained but powerless. Informed but powerless. Fleetingly content, most of the time broke, sometimes hopeful, but ultimately powerless.
And angry. Don’t forget angry.”
Lawn Boy, er, covers a lot of ground. Capitalism. Exploitation. Elitism. Racism. Identity. Classism. And work. And personal will. And search for dignity. And knowing what you want out of life.
And all done in a breezy, funny, sad, biting, enchanting style. Mike Muñoz is our chatty, casual narrator who switches casually from third person to first.
“You see, old Mike Muñoz would like to figure out who the hell he actually is, what he’d actually like to do with his life. He aches to be a winner. I’d like nothing more than to spread my proverbial wings and fly the **** away from my current life, or maybe just get above it for a while. At this point, I feel like I’m nothing more than what everybody needs me to be or whatever the situation demands of me.”
Mike’s mother works double shifts at the Tide’s Inn. She’s had three husbands and has had it rough. Her “go-to” beverage is Chardonnay on ice. Mike often babysits his developmentally disabled brother Nate. He has a thing for a waitress. He wants to write a novel, but he knows that’s not the wise choice given that he should be making money.
Lawn Boy is about Mike’s self-confidence, his efforts to get a solid foot on the first rung up the ladder—that is, if that’s where he wants to go. If that’s who he is. Is he willing to play the games he’s got to play, like the art of earning (and cashing in) favors as his childhood friend Doug Goble, now a slick and successful real estate dude, tries to teach him? Goble is always ready with a meaningless bromide. Such as: “It’s all just a big game of Monopoly. Dummies and nice guys always lose.” Goble, Mike recalls, “started distinguishing himself as an entrepreneur” in sixth grade.
We bump along with Mike Muñoz as he tries to figure this all out. He’s hapless, definitely luckless. His mower gets ripped off. His truck is fidgety. He gets fired. When he’s briefly in the money, we know it won’t last. He yearns for the waitress Remy and has a few dates. He dreams about writing a novel. He wants his name on a novel. “But the thing of it is, I don’t really know how to think big. God knows, nobody every taught me.”
But nobody has to teach Mike Muñoz about the power of a potentially embarrassing encounter from his youth. From fourth grade. It’s a moment he lives with and it involves Doug Goble and it’s stayed with Mike because he doesn’t know what to do with it and he doesn’t know what it means because he was a kid. Does Doug remember it? And so what if he does?
Lawn Boy is about finding yourself, finding what you’re good at. It’s about that old-fashioned concept of gumption and belonging. The best thing about Lawn Boy is that it’s about a lot of things and it’s narrated in a seamless voice by an insightful character. We know he’s smarter than he gives himself credit for because we see how Mike Muñoz thinks and we root for him from page one to the last. He’s smart enough to know to look outward, instead of obsessing over “the murky, undefined recesses of his heart.”
Says Muñoz, “In my experience, a kid doesn’t gain much through introspection. A kid gets more by throwing a ball or wrestling with a dog or burning ant hills with a magnifying glass. Sometimes I wish I could just go back and tell little Mike Muñoz to quit biting his fingernails and have some laughs. That’s what kids should do, they should laugh. If there’s a better, righter sound in the whole world than the laughter of children, I don’t know what it is.”
How can we not pull for a kid like that? More laughter, less anxiety. That’s a recipe for positive mental health, no?
To all the detractors with their phony alarms, I say “whose lawn are you mowing?”
Previously reviewed: Small World.