When Moses McGuire expressed that sentiment in Out There Bad, the second in author Josh Stallings’s series featuring the hard-drinking suicidal strip club bouncer, I thought it was pretty cool. So much so, I started my review of the book by quoting it. That there was a little bit of Stallings in McGuire—ok, maybe more than a little—was never really in doubt, but I didn’t realize exactly how much of an outlook on life they shared until I read Stallings’s memoir, All the Wild Children.
You see, by all reasonable measure, Stallings shouldn’t be alive. Between the obstacles and circumstances life threw at him and some epically bad choices he made on top of them, Stallings has led the most charmed cursed life in history to still be walking the planet. And he could easily be forgiven for thinking, like McGuire, that fuck in the sky hates his ass.
Plunging headlong out a window into a patch of thorny shrubbery, having your stomach pumped (three times), and driving a truck head-on into a tree would make for an impressive resume of misadventure for anyone during their lifetime—Stallings accomplished it all before his fifth birthday. Yeah, you read that right. And he was just warming up. Welcome to Stallings’s world…this is the new normal.
All the Wild Children is the most brutally honest thing I’ve ever read. Few people are willing to lay themselves as bare as Stallings does in his memoir, and even fewer still are able to do so in a way that comes across as disarmingly genuine as Stallings does. He presents his mind blowing life story as neither boast nor pity party, and freely admits that the events and adventures he recounts are “at best the recollections of a man with a weak memory but a strong sense of what it felt like.”
And through a series of chapters that each encapsulates a snapshot moment from his life and struggles, Stallings makes the reader feel every bit of it along with him as he relives the broken home-drug-alcohol-sex-violence-crime fueled events that shaped him into the man he’s become. Through it all there’s a recurring theme of family, both the one you come issued with and the one you choose for yourself. In Stallings’s case, the family well he draws from is deep, filled with a seemingly limitless supply of both demons and fortitude.
The demons follow him into marriage, his career and fatherhood, where he continues to battle addiction while carving out a successful role in the film/editing industry…though not without a tragicomic meltdown or two along the way. He and his wife are also faced with raising two sons who both have demons of their own, one in the form of mental illness, the other with an addiction problem of his own. That fortitude follows Stallings as well, however, and the humor, love, and determination he and his wife tackle those challenges with is humbling in its magnitude.
I am 50. I am eighteen years sober. The shame has left me. I may always be the dummy at some level, but I don’t have to be a liar a cheat or a thief.
Josh Stallings did not set out to impress or inspire when he wrote All the Wild Children, but he does both. In spades. Welcome to Stallings’s world…this is the new normal.
All the Wild Children is available from Snubnose Press (ISBN: 978-1482601916).